FILM REVIEW – STARFISH. With Virginia Gardner, Christina Masterson, Eric Beecroft, Natalie Mitchell, Shannon Hollander. Written and directed by A.T. White. Not Rated. 99 minutes.
If you think it’s difficult to craft a film in hopes that it will be a blockbuster hit, it’s even harder if your goal is to create something that will be an enduring cult favorite. That means it’s okay if the film doesn’t appeal to general audiences, but it has to generate a fervor among its fans that will make them want to watch it again and again. Movies as different as “Casablanca,” “Harold and Maude,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” have their followings, but there are others that either failed to reach a critical mass or sank without a trace.
Whether STARFISH will succeed remains to be seen. It has a showing at midnight, March 16 (i.e., Saturday night) at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline with writer/director A. T. White in attendance. This ought to indicate that even the theater operators understand this will appeal not only to a select audience, but to those young and/or hardy enough to go to a movie that first starts at midnight.
It begins when Aubrey (Virginia Gardner of “Runaways”) is attending the memorial service for her friend Grace (Christina Masterson). She’s distraught for reasons that are never entirely clear beyond the fact that she’s lost a close friend. She ends up breaking into Grace’s apartment and spending the night there, apparently as part of her mourning process. Then it gets strange, and it’s here where the cultists will engage and everyone else will be checking their watches and eying the exits.
Aubrey discovers that a.) much of humanity has disappeared and b.) weird creatures have arrived on Earth. Some sort of signal seems to be opening “gates” between our world and some other dimension, allowing these creatures through. Aubrey discovers that Grace has hidden a series of mix tapes that include these signals, and she now tries to find them all. The bulk of the film consists of Aubrey searching for the tapes, avoiding the monsters, and mourning the loss of her friend. The connection between these three things is tenuous at best and isn’t helped by the film’s jumping around in space and time. At various times Aubrey finds herself falling through midair, sinking underwater, turned into an animated character, and even discovering that she’s on location for the movie “Starfish.”
For those ready to join the nascent cult, these are profound and evocative moments that invite viewers to speculate as to their meaning. For most viewers – including this one – this is utter nonsense, not very interesting, and one pushing you to disengage unless you’re committed to watching until the end. To be fair, there are similar films to which this reviewer is very much part of the fan base, so it’s ultimately a matter of taste whether you can connect with the material or not.
“Starfish” is a film with a very limited audience, but it’s worth noting that Gardner – who spends most of the film utterly alone – manages to keep her character engaging even if the material is less so. The film’s distributors already know what they up against. They’ve announced that the film goes to Video on Demand on May 28.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.