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Review: Virginia Gardner shines in the intensely original ‘Starfish’

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Virginia Gardner in the movie “Starfish.”
(1091)

When the vagabond Aubrey (Virginia Gardner) returns to her hometown for her old friend Grace’s funeral at the start of writer-director A.T. White’s debut feature “Starfish,” she promptly retreats from the world and immerses herself in what’s left of Grace’s life by crashing in her apartment, picking through her effects and listening to her music.

Then extra-dimensional creatures invade Earth and Aubrey is surprised to discover that her childhood pal’s ephemera might contain the clues to help her save humanity … if she can get over her grief long enough to leave the couch.

White takes big chances with “Starfish,” using elements of science fiction and horror as a rough frame for an intensely intimate character study, looking deep into a loner who, at a young age, is suddenly made aware of everything she’s already lost.

Not everything White tries works. After a while, the frequent flashbacks and dream sequences feel a little arbitrary, as though the audience were being jerked around to distract from the general quietude. There’s also something creepily aestheticizing — bordering on fetishizing — about the way “Starfish” lingers on long shots of Aubrey looking sad.

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But Gardner is excellent throughout; and perhaps the best thing about “Starfish” is that it’s so hard to pigeonhole. It’s a little like a post-apocalyptic survivalist thriller, crossed with Lynn Ramsay’s impressionistic masterpiece “Morvern Callar,” crossed with a Radiohead video. Not all of those pieces fit together. But they combine into something strikingly original.

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‘Starfish’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

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Playing: Available on VOD

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