While it didn’t make my personal Top 10 List of horror movies featured at this year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin Texas, Starfish (written and directed by A.T. White) was a definite mind-bender; an enigmatic riddle that sticks in your skull long after the film is over. It blends fantasy with low-tech/metaphysical sci-fi and a hefty dose of high drama. It’s got the appeal of Stranger Things and The Mist but carries the weight of something much deeper.
Today brings news that Starfish has been picked up for distribution by The Orchard. Expect the film to receive a limited theatrical release before arriving on VOD platforms this spring. The film stars Virginia Gardner (Halloween), Christina Masterson, and Eric Beecroft.
Synopsis A girl. A mixtape. And Armageddon. A uniquely honest portrayal of loss as a young woman struggles with the death of her best friend while dealing with the horrific Lovecraftian end of the world, driven by a beautiful indie music soundtrack.
The sci-fi horror feature Starfish, which stars Halloween and “Runaways” actor Virginia Gardner has been picked up by The Orchard for a raft of territories including the U.S. and UK, Deadline reports out of the American Film Market.
The film, which is directed by A.T. White, follows Gardner as a young woman who struggles with the death of her best friend, while trying to assemble a series of clues left on mixtapes in order to stop a monstrous end to the world as we know it.
Blending drama, high-concept sci-fi and horror with an upbeat indie music score, The Orchard has picked by White’s debut feature for the U.S., Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand. It is planning a theatrical release in the spring ahead of a digital release.
Exploration of grief through horror is nothing new, but Starfish may mark the first time it’s explored by way of a Lovecraftian Armageddon. For Aubrey (Virginia Gardner), the loss of her best friend Chloe (Christina Masterson) leaves her so devastated and broken that she barely functions on autopilot and eventually breaks into Chloe’s apartment to retain closeness to her lost friend. But she wakes up one morning to the world frozen over, invaded by strange creatures, and most of humanity gone. Aubrey must navigate the terrifying new world with only the clues and mixtapes Chloe left behind for her.
Writer/director/executive producer Al White, who also composed the film’s score, crafts Aubrey’s journey through the stages of grief and guilt exactly like the mixtapes she finds throughout the film. Meaning it varies in style, tempo, and genre, but is always grounded in Aubrey’s melancholy. Chloe’s apartment and pets provide Aubrey an anchor, but the monoliths that have popped up in town that opened the doors to otherworldly beasts means that Aubrey’s mind often ventures into strange places too. Sometimes it’s just popping into a new landscape, other times it’s slipping into dreamlike animated sequences. And sometimes it also means popping into a reality that’s so meta it takes the viewer out of the film altogether. It’s all driven by music, a visual storytelling set to White’s score and indie soundtrack. Not everything works.
Similar to the homemade mixtape, the transitions between songs and scenes are often jarring and abrupt, making it confusing at times to follow Aubrey’s story. It smooths out for the most part, but the introductory scenes to the narrative setup feel haphazard due to the editing. As for the horror, it’s there but often just lurking out of reach. White takes cues from the Silent Hill video games, in that the monsters on screen are representative of the guilt bearing down on the main character.
This is a personal tale of grief for White, mirroring Aubrey’s story from pieces of his own life, but his musical background means that this narrative is much more aurally focused and not always very coherent. For those looking for something much more abstract, and cosmic horror tends to lend itself well to the abstract, Starfish offers a fresh perspective. But it can take awhile to get anywhere, and those looking for straightforward horror will likely find themselves frustrated. Gardner delivers a great portrayal of a woman too consumed with grief and guilt, keeping us invested in getting to the root of it, even when we never really learn much about her connection to Chloe. That’s okay though, because it’s not ever really about Chloe.
There’s a lot to like about Starfish; the stunning snowy landscapes, the haunting score steeped in forlornness, and the metaphor of cosmic horror as grief. But the choppy editing, the overly arthouse way it presents some of the themes, and underdeveloped aspects of the story in favor of the aural experience is ostracizing. Starfish is less story and more of an exorcism of personal loss by way of a cinematic musical mixtape. It’s cool in concept, but doesn’t always work.
Fantastic Fest is one of North America’s most prestigious film festivals dedicated purely to sci-fi, horror, and fantasy. Several of us from Dread Central will attend the annual event, kicking off this Thursday, September 20th and running through Thursday, September 27th.
With literally dozens of movies to choose from, it can be a somewhat daunting and overwhelming experience. With that in mind, we’ve scoured this year’s schedule in order to bring you a list of the 10 movies we’re most excited to see at Fantastic Fest. Of course, there are many other great films being featured, so be sure to review the complete program yourself at the festival’s Official Website, HERE.
Have a ready and let us know what you think of our choices!
Synopsis: Jamie Lee Curtis returns to her iconic role as Laurie Strode, who comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.
After debuting to smashing reviews at TIFF, Blumhouse’s Halloween is poised to demolish the box office when it arrives in US theaters on October 19th. Not only will Halloween (screening Thursday, September 20th at 5 PM) be an incredible way to kick off the festival, Jamie Lee Curtis will be in attendance, along with producers Jason Blum, Malek Akkad, and Bill Block. It’s an event fans of the seminal slasher franchise won’t want to miss!
Lords of Chaos
Synopsis: Based on the biography of the same name, LORDS OF CHAOS is the tale of an Oslo teenager who launches Norwegian black metal, setting off a chain of events that have made his band, Mayhem, infamous for decades.
Jonas Åkerlund has directed music videos for the likes of Rammstein, Metallica, and Queens of the Stone Age, but Lords of Chaos marks his first foray into feature filmmaking. Having read Lords of Chaos (a nonfiction book penned by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind), I’m excited to see how these larger-than-life personalities are portrayed, as well as how the perpetrators of violence will be humanized. In addition to recounting the events that culminated in murder, Lords of Chaos addresses a string of church burnings that shocked Norway during the heydays of the black metal movement. Lords of Chaos is screening on Thursday, September 20th at 5 PM and Thursday, September 27th at 5 PM.
Synopsis: A girl. A mixtape. And Armageddon. A uniquely honest portrayal of loss as a young woman struggles with the death of her best friend while dealing with the horrific Lovecraftian end of the world, driven by a beautiful indie music soundtrack.
We’re suckers for a good apocalyptic coming-of-age saga, which makes us especially excited to check out Starfish, the debut feature film by Al White (lead singer of the UK band Ghostlight). The film is being described as a multi-media affair that melds music and animation with compelling storytelling and existential dread. Starfish stars Virginia Gardner, who’s been getting rave reviews for her portrayal of Aubrey, a young woman looking for answers in a frozen wasteland. You can see the film on Friday, September 21st at 2 PM and Thursday, September 27th at 2 PM.
Synopsis: The mountains of Oaxaca harbor the remains of a ravaged and burnt shelter, once home to a psychoanalyst priest who used it to look after savage children, trying to re-integrate them into society. Through videotape diaries and interviews, the truth of what happened is shockingly revealed.
Feral children in horror movies make for brilliant sociopolitical commentary on the “savage” vs the “civilized” while simultaneously tapping into the primal beast within us all. Feral looks to push all the right buttons and then some, incorporating elements of faith and religious set against the backdrop of the Oaxacan mountains in southern Mexico. You can catch Feral on Thursday, September 20th at 8 PM or Thursday, September 27th at 5 PM; Andrés Kaiser and Producer Nicole Maynard Pinto will attend both screenings.
Synopsis: With only hours until D-Day, a team of American paratroopers drop into Nazi-occupied France to carry out a mission that’s crucial to the invasion’s success. Tasked with destroying a radio transmitter atop a fortified church, the desperate soldiers join forces with a young French villager to penetrate the walls and take down the tower. But, in a mysterious Nazi lab beneath the church, the outnumbered G.I.s come face-to-face with enemies unlike any the world has ever seen. From producer J.J. Abrams, Overlord is a thrilling, pulse-pounding action adventure with a twist.
Overlord may or may not be the next film in Bad Robot’s Cloverfield franchise (launched in 2008), but either way, we’re super excited to see its world premiere at Fantastic Fest. Anything produced by J.J. Abrams is bound to pull the carpet out from under us with a 3rd Act twist, and the trailer released out of San Diego Comic-Con last July was intensely thrilling. Attendees can catch Overlord on Saturday, September 22nd at 8 PM or Wednesday, September 26th at 11:50 PM. Cast members Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Pilou Asbæk, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Iain de Caestecker, and Dominic Applewhite will be there, along with Overlord director Julius Avery, producer Lindsey Weber, and executive producer Jon Cohen.
Hold the Dark
Synopsis: A gripping psychological thriller unfolds in the treacherous Alaskan wilderness when a retired wolf expert is summoned to investigate a child’s disappearance.
The latest form lauded indie director Jeremy Saulnier (Murder Party, Blue Ruin, Green Room) promises to be a complex and uncompromising descent into the heart of darkness. Hold the Dark is based on the 2014 novel by William Giraldi and was adapted for the screen by Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning filmmaker Macon Blair (who has also acted in all of Saulnier’s previous films). Expect poignant examinations of the nature of grief and revenge anchored by performances from Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgård, and James Badge Dale. You can see Hold the Dark on Saturday, September 22nd at 5 PM or Thursday, September 27th at 8 PM.
Under the Silver Lake
Synopsis: From the dazzling imagination that brought you IT FOLLOWS comes a delirious neo-noir fever dream about one man’s search for the truth behind the mysterious crimes, murders, and disappearances in his East L.A. neighborhood.
The fact that It Follows was such a divisive force in the horror community, we’re extremely curious to check out David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up, Under the Silver Lake. There’s clearly some black humor at play in this one, but the film ventures into truly dark territories with subtexts exploring obsession, mental illness, and the “targeted individual” phenomenon (wherein people believe they’re being manipulated by gangs of organized stalkers). Under the Silver Lake stars Andrew Garfield and will screen at Fantastic Fest on one night only: Wednesday, September 26th at 8 PM.
Synopsis: This sequel to THE WAVE follows the same family, off to Oslo where the earth will shake again. The experts warned that it would! Expect death, drama, and awesome SFX. ‘Nuff said.
The family who barely survived a tsunami in 2015’s The Wave have a new natural disaster to contend with—along with some serious PTSD! Oh, how we love to watch our cities crumble beneath the indifferent fury of Mother Nature, and while The Quake looks like a paradigm of eco-horror, it also reflects darker themes and tropes permeating many horror offerings emerging from Scandinavia. Expect dedicated geologist Kristian Eikjord (played by Kristoffer Joner) to portray a 21st Century Pandora: Cursed with foresight that’s destined to be ignored. You can experience The Quake on Friday, September 21st at 5 PM or Wednesday, September 26th at 8 PM.
Open 24 Hours
Synopsis: A young woman who had previously set her serial killer boyfriend on fire is now seeking normalcy by getting a job working the overnight shift at a 24-hour convenience store, where things are most definitely not going to be normal.
Open 24 Hours is the latest feature film from director Padraig Reynolds (Rites of Spring, The Devil’s Dolls) and sounds like an irreverent mashup of Clerks and Last House on the Left (with some supernatural elements thrown in for good measure). Vanessa Grasse (Leatherface) plays Mary, a woman struggling with intense paranoia who’s increasingly unable to separate fantasies from reality. Fantastic Festival attendees to catch Open 24 Hours on Saturday, September 22nd at 11:50 PM or Tuesday, September 25th at 2 PM. Reynolds will also attend both screenings.
Bad Times at the El Royale
Synopsis: Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption… before everything goes to hell. Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, and Cynthia Erivo lead an all-star cast in BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE.
Jeff Bridges? Sold! Fantastic Fest will be closing their 2018 outing with Bad Times at the El Royal, the latest film from writer/director Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods, World WarZ, The Martian). Much of the film’s production was shrouded in secrecy, making us especially curious to check it out. The El Royale is modeled after the famous Cal Neva Resort and Casino, which was once owned by Frank Sinatra. The only time you can see Bad Times at the El Royale is Thursday, September 27th at 8 PM, and the screening will lead immediately into Fantastic Fest’s closing night celebration.
Are you attending Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX? What films are you most looking forward to seeing? Sound off in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram!