Starfish is the kind of movie where you find yourself still thinking about it days later. Writer/director A.T. White has crafted a work that is both completely fantastical and intensely personal. Admittedly, this is a surreal film, so you don't necessarily understand every single connection or bit of symbolism right away. That's part of the appeal, though. It lingers in your mind, revealing clues to its mysteries the more you ponder what you've seen.

Virginia Gardner (Halloween) plays Aubrey, a young woman whose best friend has died. In the days after the tragic passing, she breaks into her friend's apartment, which is when things take a turn into something otherworldly. A mysterious signal from another dimension has seemingly brought about the end of the world. Aubrey is the only one left, except for a voice on the other end of a walkie-talkie she finds. Then she discovers her friend left a mix tape that purports to give instructions on how to save the world. Following its lead requires visiting a number of locations that bring her a step closer to acceptance of the loss she has suffered.

The inherently compelling idea at the center of Starfish is that it's not the actual world Aubrey is saving, it's her own world. The movie's bizarre images (including a cool animated sequence) convey the way life feels hostile when you've lost a loved one. Everything is a reminder that calls attention to the loss – every place you go, every song you hear, every conversation you have. People experiencing deep grief fight to keep their heads above water, to hold on to some semblance of hope that existence will feel normal again at some point. That's Aubrey in a nutshell.

White based the film on personal experience, a fact that is palpable throughout. Starfish has a very detectable core of sadness that runs underneath all the vivid imagery. A strong central performance from Virginia Gardner emphasizes it. Most of the film is her alone, yet she needs no co-stars to make us understand how devastated Aubrey is. This is an instance where director and star are visibly on the same page, to the movie's great benefit.

The soundtrack is filled with atmospheric songs from artists such as Sigur Ros and Sparklehorse. All of them have been carefully selected to compliment what we see onscreen, as well as to help establish an ambiance.

So much of Starfish is impressionistic that it may frustrate viewers who want a concrete story where everything is easily tied up at the end. Those willing to tune in to its unique wavelength, on the other hand, will appreciate the ambition and risk-taking on display. White absolutely has a grasp on what he wants to do. His vision is thrilling.

out of four

Starfish is unrated, but contains language and mature subject matter. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.