In Starfish (2018), we learn that writer/director A. T. White would like to negate us Cthulhu-style, but he’d make sure to do it from our most flattering angle. He’s the PR advance team for the Great Old Ones. Lovecraft, take note. You didn’t think of that.
He gives his high-gloss nihilism to the character of Aubrey (Virginia Gardner), who’s dealing with a full emotional plate: the death of her best friend Grace (Christina Masterson), the messy breakup of her romantic relationship with Edward (Eric Beecroft), and the literal apocalypse by way of an extradimensional invasion. That last one happens while she’s sleeping. She’s one of the few to wake up alive, and she comes to understand that she has the means to fight back. The question is whether she wants to.
The invasion itself and most of the invaders never actually appear in the film. They’re a metaphorical backdrop for Aubrey’s grieving process. The ones that we do see look better than you get on twice or even three times the budget. The entire movie is handsome like this, and the images are often content to be images, without feeling the need to convey story information. The editing picks up some of the slack and does a creditable job with the few horror moments.
Given that the world is over, Aubrey has plenty of alone time in Grace’s old apartment, which gives Gardner long stretches of dead air to fill, complete with a tortoise for running her lines with. She tends to play teenagers on television shows, so it’s nice to see her branching out. But she’s also impossibly easy on the eyes, and if you haven’t seen her work, you have no idea. It’s not just that she’s beautiful by Hollywood standards. She possesses a radiant and blinding beauty, a classical beauty, the complete Aristotle, which the camera drinks in to such a degree that she’s simply not believable as the black hole Aubrey, whose mental unwellness and emotional damage are supposed to make the energy go the opposite direction, and Gardner’s performance, while far from bad, didn’t do enough to convince me otherwise. Her on-screen presence by itself was distracting. It could, and often did, take me out of the scene. When it didn’t, what I should’ve been reading as grief came across as self-involvement. Maybe these are the same in this film. But someone with more range and more visible mileage would have been better for this particular role.
That’s not to say that Gardner can’t carry a part unless she’s playing Aphrodite (although someone needs to cast her as Aphrodite immediately). But she’d benefit from a director who can adapt his approach to bring out the inner qualities of his actors, and White, for all his obvious gifts, doesn’t seem to be that guy. He certainly didn’t shoot her how her character is feeling. He shot her like the Botticelli. Even when she’s peeing. Which we see her do. Twice.
He’s also not the best guy to write his own dialogue. Next time around, I hope he hires a screenwriter, but something tells me that he won’t.