Review: STARFISH Is a Bittersweet Look at Pain, Loss and Confronting Our Own Monsters
There's a sense of loss and despair that comes with losing someone close to you. You feel alone, empty and unable to focus on anything whatsoever. It eats at you, that regret until you're faced with the choice of letting that pain and sorrow overtake you, or working with everything you have to eventually deal with it. While some films tackling those subjects tend to feel forced or a little too on the nose, Al White's beautiful film, Starfish, does so in such a profoundly bittersweet way, that it is easily one of the best films this writer has ever seen. It's a film that breathes honesty and sincerity, a genre film that shows how spectacularly important the power of pain and grief can be.
Previously seen in 2018's Halloween, Virginia Gardner gives a brutally honest and convincing portrayal as Aubrey, a woman who's lost her best friend, as well as already dealing with another situation which left her feeling guilt-ridden and fractured. We see right from the beginning of the film, that Aubrey has a lot on her mental plate and when attending her friend's funeral reception, all of us who have previously been through the same thing can feel the authenticity that Starfish holds so well. It's painful to be around a bunch of people, all sad and grieving when you don't even know how to come to terms with your own loss. Aubrey doesn't want to face the fact that someone who meant the world to her is gone, and does what so many of us have done in similar situations: cling onto the memories she holds and refuses to let the reality sink in. She breaks into her deceased friend's apartment and refuses to leave, secluding and engulfing herself in the pain and misery that comes with that refusal to let go and try to continue on.
While Starfish, and White as a director, could have solely focused on a very specific way to approach that grief in the film, it instead gives its viewers danger, in the form of what feels to Aubrey, like the end of the world. Snowy and secluded, without a single person in sight, Aubrey feels completely alone, until her grief and pain shows up in the form of monsters, which look absolutely wonderful. The monsters that Aubrey has to face could only be described as something reminiscent of a cross between Silent Hill and some of the scarier ones from Frank Darabont's The Mist.
Already dialed into the emotional drama of the film, due to the combination of visually masterful directing and writing from White, a heartbreaking performance from Gardner, some of the best cinematography of the past few years (courtesy of Alberto Banares) and one of the best scores I've heard in a while, Starfish does a good job, like Jennifer Kent's The Babadook, at giving us Aubrey's pain and emotional loss in physical form, making for a very dreamlike journey that never feels pretentious of off, instead taking you, as a viewer, on a journey that is both fantastical and despairing at the same time. When Aubrey comes across the fact that her friend had left her a series of mixtapes, with songs that when combined, will bring forth a signal to stop the monsters, she takes steps to leave the apartment and visit various places that meant a lot to her, forcing her to confront the very same grief that she refuses to.
It's a profound film, Starfish. Very few films have approached its topics with such imagination and honesty and the moment the end credits appear on screen, you feel as if YOU have confronted specific things in your life that you perhaps didn't expect to confront, walking into it. What Starfish does so well, is showing its viewer that it's okay to feel at a loss when it comes to how to grieve, how to confront that pain. It's okay to break down and feel as if you are completely alone in the world because maybe in a way when you lose someone so close to you, you are alone in some aspect. What Starfish shows, is that it's all about coming to the point in which we embrace loss and use it as a way to attempt to move on and, as Aubrey is told in the film (in one of the most heartbreaking scenes I've seen in years): BE HAPPY.
Starfish is not only already one of the best films of the year, but it's also one of the best directorial debuts I've ever seen. A masterful, bittersweet look at loss, pain, and redemption, Starfish is a film that you mustn't wait on, no...run to see this one.