Jan 17, 2020
It’s Friday, so it’s time for another Fantastic Fest feature. This week, Andrew Campbell returns with a musically-driven, post-apocalyptic film that reminds me a great deal of THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD (Episode #372), thematically speaking, anyway. Andrew will be up in a moment to give you his thoughts on today’s movie, but for a few recent reviews of his, check out IN FABRIC (Episode #674), 1917 (Episode #675), and THE DEATH OF DICK LONG (Episode #681). He’s got some absolutely crazy pictures coming up over the next couple of months.
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Hello film fans!
Andrew here. Back today with the first of two back-to-back Lovecraftian films this week and next. I just so happen to know our host Joseph is huge fan of Lovecraft, particularly the Cthulhu mythos, whereas I have but a passing knowledge of what qualifies a work as being inspired by Lovecraft. When I think of Lovecraft, the themes that come to mind are feelings of unease and depression along with some sort of bizarre cosmic element trying to rip into our world. Plus, monsters. Often really, really big monsters.
JOSEPH: "That's interesting, because when I think of Cthulhu, I think [UNINTELLIGIBLE]."
Whereas next week’s film is a modern-day adaptation of one of his short stories, this week’s subject is clearly heavily influenced by Lovecraft.
Today’s movie is STARFISH, the debut feature film from writer/director A.T. White. A UK/US co-production, STARFISH made its world premiere at the 2018 Fantastic Fest. The film opens with Virginia Gardner as Aubrey, a twenty-something, attending a wake for her best friend, Grace. In her grief, Aubrey leaves early and heads to Grace’s apartment located above a convenience store in what looks like a remote and snowy Colorado town. The apartment is tidy and lived-in and not totally devoid of life, with Grace’s forgotten pet turtle and jellyfish proving her passing was recent and perhaps unexpected. After dozing off, Aubrey awakes to a changed world. The small town appears from her second-floor window to be mostly uninhabited other than a few car fires and the occasional resident sprinting out of view. What unfolds is an introspective meditation on grief along with some inexplicable surprises.
The performance by Virginia Gardner is the glue that holds this film together. She owns the screen for all 90 minutes, most without the benefit of any other actors to play off of. She’s emotive and melancholy, but not to the point of being a sad-sack that the audience doesn’t want to hang out with.
Strangely, Grace seems to have somehow been aware of some outside alien force trying to penetrate our world. She has left behind for Aubrey a series of audio-tapes in the form of a scavenger hunt and on these tapes is somehow the key to understanding and perhaps stopping whatever alien force is affecting the town and shutting off the world beyond. (They never say what killed Grace. Maybe it was aliens?)
Aubrey’s only companion is the occasional voice on the other end of a CB radio, which seems to egg her on whenever she is at a loss. Am I giving away too much of the story? Not really. I’m just talking it out because in the world of STARFISH, it’s never really clear what’s going on.
STARFISH starts slow and then slows down a bit more before it starts sprinkling in moments of excitement. You get the occasional creature and some odd bits of grotesquerie that are all really well done in spite of what was likely a micro-budget. The film seems to alternate these little glimpses of horror with dream sequences where Aubrey has conversations with Grace or spends time with a boyfriend on a beach lit by headlights where it’s clear something tragic may have happened.
The trailer for STARFISH is worth a watch as it does a good job quickly flipping through some of the more visually arresting scenes in a film full of lush cinematography. STARFISH contains a little bit of everything. The only thing missing is any clear understanding of just what is going on in this nightmarish winter world.
What makes STARFISH fantastic?It starts out as a movie about loss and depression, throws in some trippy dream sequences (even becoming a cartoon for a stretch) and ends up as some sort of light survival horror. Even having seen it twice, I still don’t fully understand what conclusions I’m supposed to draw from STARFISH as it’s not clear what is real. Maybe it’s all inside Aubrey’s head? Or maybe some newly awoken monoliths are patrolling the Earth, setting loose their hounds on the remaining populace. Who’s to say.STARFISH is not for everyone, as evidenced by the barrage of one-star reviews on the IMDb page.
STARFISH is poetic and hypnotic, meandering and confounding - an enthralling work from a first-time writer/director. Fans of atmospheric, introspective science fiction films such as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY or UNDER THE SKIN will enjoy STARFISH.
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
One Movie Punch: 6.8/10
STARFISH (2018) is not rated and is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Come back next Friday for COLOR OUT OF SPACE, an adaptation of a Lovecraft short-story getting its first film treatment. Someone decided it was a good idea to spend $12 million dollars on a psychedelic descent into madness starring Nic Cage and it hits the big screen next week. Buckle up, this one is wild.
See you then!