Starfish on VOD: The weirdest horror film you’ll see all year

Virginia Gardner in Starfish. Credit: Yellow Veil Pictures
Virginia Gardner in Starfish. Credit: Yellow Veil Pictures /

In the midst of Aladdin and Rocketman dominating the box office in theaters, A.T. White’s ambitious apocalyptic horror-drama, Starfish, lands on VOD as what is perhaps one of the strangest (and most enthralling) horror films of the year so far.

The apocalypse, for all its gargantuan effects on the world of fiction, has hardly existed in a form that allowed for creative storytelling and world-building within the confines of a world that is in the midst of destruction. Save for The World’s End and The Road, the apocalypse is often treated as a shallowly-presented world devoid of hope and saturated with enough gray to make Zack Snyder blush.

Despite its potential, the apocalypse is often relegated to a story that consists of mopey characters walking through the woods and living off of the land while avoiding threats from strangers and such.

The subgenre is ripe with thematic potential, but the end result often boils down to a survival drama where the end result is simply a matter of life or death. But A.T. White is looking to shy away from these restraints to present his apocalyptic horror-drama, Starfish, in a unique manner.

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Starfish is the rare example of a legitimately independent feature that has managed to make waves purely on word-of-mouth alone.

Debuting last year in the Official Selection of the Fantastic Fest, White’s sorrow tune of an apocalyptic drama has impressed critics with its otherworldly take on the end of the world and its heavy & symbolic use of music to play into the story being told. In other words, it’s an apocalyptic story unlike anything you might’ve seen before.

Virginia Gardner in Starfish. Credit: Yellow Veil Pictures
Virginia Gardner in Starfish. Credit: Yellow Veil Pictures /

It’s the end of the world

Starfish follows a woman named Aubrey (Virginia Gardner in a wildly compelling performance) riddled with grief after the death of her best friend. Her grief literally manifests itself into a mysterious worldwide event that has spawned several unusual creatures that lead to Aubrey waking up to an abandoned town with no explanation as to what happened. All that’s left for her is a mixtape that claims to be the solution to saving the world.

Of course, taking everything at surface value would be a giant mistake to make while watching Starfish. The sequences in this film often walk the tightrope that floats over literal interpretation and philosophical concepts manifesting as physical beings in this world. The movie is literal enough to ground the story into some form of reality, but the apocalypse is brought upon by a concept rather than an action.

As such, the story may across as self-indulgent nonsense and the first viewing may not give clear-cut answers as to what exactly happens and what it means for Aubrey. Repeat viewings have cleared up the meaning behind Aubrey’s journey, but that does not save the story from showing its weakness with its razor-thin story and lack of progression for much of the film.

A compelling lead is unfortunately held back by the restraints of static character progression and while that might be part of the point with her grief-stricken self, it made for an experience that left me wanting more out Aubrey and her purpose in the film.

Virginia Gardner in Starfish. Credit: Yellow Veil Pictures
Virginia Gardner in Starfish. Credit: Yellow Veil Pictures /

Soundtrack of the apocalypse

Where Starfish succeeds at outweighing the glaring cons is its dreary, yet punk-like aesthetic. The movie is far from a joyful experience, but that is not communicated through the age-old method of color saturation and an overwhelming use of gray to communicate a lifeless world.

Starfish breathes life into its world with an intimate sense of setting, taking place in a small town that allows for personal story progression while showcasing the devastating effects of the apocalypse.

Combined with that is Starfish’s thematic soundtrack playing into the plot point of Aubrey discovering her deceased friend’s mixtape that supposedly holds the key to saving the world. Of course, the actual mixtape serves its purpose in a unique manner that becomes clearer as we see Aubrey desperately collecting tapes that serve as reminders of her and her friend’s intimate friendship.

Music is the driving force of Starfish and acts as a gateway for Aubrey to experience several existential situations, including an out-of-nowhere animation scene that both breaks up the monotony of the slow story and showcases a director that is bold enough to take these kinds of risks while potentially alienating the audience. The music in this scene, as well as the others, opens the door to the kind of friendship Aubrey had and lost, helping us dig deeper into her soul as she undergoes a journey of grief and isolation.

Virginia Gardner in Starfish. Credit: Yellow Veil Pictures
Virginia Gardner in Starfish. Credit: Yellow Veil Pictures /

Starfish becomes less of a horror and more of an existential drama in the long run, but either way it is bound to be one of the strangest movies you’ll come across all year. A.T. White‘s tale of grief contains enough nuance to warrant repeat viewings, but in no way is this a movie destined to please everyone.

There is bound to be confusion and/or irritation at the narrative’s manner in progressing the story and while some of these issues do hold the final product down, there is a level of intimate artistry that makes White a filmmaker to pay attention to in the future.

Virginia Gardner also proves that she is lead material with her compassionate performance as Aubrey and her acting alone, mixed with White’s subtle, yet powerful direction, makes Starfish a worthwhile use of your money and time on VOD. I should’ve reviewed this a week ago when it premiered on streaming, but I needed to watch it again to understand what I’m talking about and while I’m still lost in some parts, it’s hard to not appreciate the unusual artistry being presented here.

All with a killer soundtrack.

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Starfish is available to stream on VOD right now! Have you heard of this movie? If you have, how does it look to you? Sound off below!