music

Starfish

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After losing her best friend, Aubrey secludes herself in her friend’s apartment. She awakes the next day to discover the world as she knows it is coming to an end. People have disappeared and there are strange creatures lurking outside the door. Aubrey finds a mix tape made by her deceased friend with clues as to how to survive this strange new world, and perhaps even save it.

A.T. White brings a powerful story to the screen in his first feature-length film, Starfish. The focus of the plot is grief. Aubrey loses her friend and from that moment her life is changed forever. The film includes elements of a dramatic character study, a Lovecraftian apocalypse, and fantastic music. Each aspect is integral to the film. White takes the audience on a journey through Aubrey’s grief, going through each of the traditional five stages; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages are emphasized by the end of the world happening all around Aubrey and the strange beings that have crossed into our world. Her complete isolation from the rest of the world allows the audience to focus on Aubrey as she goes on her emotional and sometimes dangerous journey in which reality bends, breaks, and unravels.

Music plays a vital role in her journey as well in the form of tapes hidden by her deceased friend. Each tape contains a song with an embedded signal that has something to do with what is happening to the world. This gives Aubrey a goal to work towards and a mystery to solve. It propels forward, forcing her to face her grief and things she has done that she feels guilty about. The tapes could even save Aubrey’s life. All of these elements combine in perfect symphony.

The plot alone is haunting, beautiful, and fascinating, but what makes it even more compelling is White’s inspiration for it. White has said that he lost a friend to cancer and experienced grief like what we see Aubrey go through. The film allowed him to visually work through that grief. What’s even more amazing is that White intends to donate all the money he makes from Starfish to Cancer Research. It shows the passion he has for both his film and the cause. That passion can also easily be seen in every last detail in the film’s plot, character, and music.

In a film that focuses entirely on one character, casting is vital. Virginia Gardner (Halloween, Runaways) stars as Aubrey. The pain, loss, and guilt Aubrey experiences is the catalyst for the entire film. Gardner truly dazzles in the role. She is able to grab the attention and the hearts of the audience and hold on tight. The way Gardner portrays Aubrey as she mourns is complicated, relatable, and incredibly raw. This performance alone makes me excited to see what Gardner does in the future.

The many artistic elements of Starfish also bring a lot to the film. The filmmakers used CGI to create the Lovecraftian creatures from another world, as well as the rips in our reality they traveled through. These effects are relatively subtle. The CGI works especially well with the various sets. The film takes place in a landscape that looks very remote and snowy, which offers a beautiful contrast with the effects. There is also a distinct lack of modern technology throughout the film. This allows for the film to exist in a space without a specific time and could have been made in the 80’s as easily as today. Of course, the music is probably the most important artistic element because of how engrained it is in the plot. The score was composed by none other than White himself and he selected the music for the soundtrack as well. Both the score and soundtrack are a focal point of the film and I found myself trying to find the soundtrack online as soon as I finished the film.

Starfish is a stunning and raw journey through the grieving process as the world ends. White beautifully uses his own experience to take the audience through the stages of grief. He also incorporates music and the collision of different worlds to convey the end of Aubrey’s world. It seems to be left up to the audience whether this is a literal or metaphorical apocalypse, but the story is haunting either way. The weight of the film is carried on Gardner’s capable shoulders as she portrays Aubrey as a complicated heroine.  Add the various visual and musical elements, and you have a must-watch film. If that isn’t enough to convince you to see Starfish, see it so you can support a great cause and have your sale go toward Cancer Research.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

 

The Devil’s Candy

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Jesse is a struggling painter. His life focuses on his art, his family, and metal music. When he and his wife find their dream home at a too-good-to-be-true price (due to the fact that the previous owners died in the home) they quickly purchase it. Everything starts out great as Jesse works away in his barn studio, but something dark resides in the house. When the son of the previous owners shows up out of the blue, things quickly begin to spiral out of Jesse’s control, putting his family at risk.

There are two things that stand out about the plot of this film: the way it integrates music throughout the story, and how it provides a more subtle look into satanic forces. Heavy metal music is a clear driving force throughout the film. Not only does this come through when Jesse and his daughter, Zooey, are bonding over their favorite musical genre, but the music is also directly connected with the demonic forces. When the audience hears what is likely the “voice” of the Devil it sounds very much like music. Also, the son of the previous home-owners, Ray, attempts to drive the voice from his head by loudly shredding his axe (playing his electric guitar, for those not well versed in metal-speak). The music goes along hand-in-hand with the demonic nature of the film and the often dark, grimy look of many scenes.

When a horror fan thinks of a film that focuses on satanic forces, typically what comes to mind is possession or demons wreaking havoc. The Devil’s Candy takes a much more subtle approach. We hear a satanic “voice” in the form of eerie music. Ray hears this voice and can only keep it out by playing music even louder than the Devil. Unfortunately, the satanic forces are too strong for him, and they drive him to commit unspeakable acts. The approach makes the film even more haunting and even a bit more realistic. Instead of a demon controlling a person’s body it is simply a voice in the back of the mind, like a constant buzzing, driving someone to do harm. What makes this more realistic is that from the outside it simply looks like a lunatic serial killer. Only those who can hear the Devil’s music know the truth. Writer/director Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones) even includes little hints such as Jesse trying to sell his art at a gallery called “Belial,” another term for the Devil, and the draw to become a respected artist continually tries to pull Jesse away from his family.

The Devil’s Candy is very much about music and satanic forces, but it is also a film about the bonds of family. Jesse and Zooey have a very close bond. Much of their bond is rooted in their mutual love of metal. As the satanic forces attempt to pull him further away from his family, it is Jesse’s love of his wife and daughter that continues to pull him out of the Devil’s hold. It is an interesting juxtaposition to see how Jesse is able to keep evil out of his mind because of his family, while Ray is unable to keep the voice out of his head no matter how hard he tries.

This film is filled with stellar performances. Ethan Embry (Empire Records, Sweet Home Alabama) absolutely shines as Jesse. This may be Embry’s most powerful performance as he shows audiences his struggle between his family and his desire to be a famous artist. It is almost as if the role was made for Embry, and I find it difficult to imagine anyone else in the role. Pruitt Taylor Vince (Identity, Constantine) also gives a disturbing performance as Ray. Vince has made quite a name for himself playing a series of unsettling characters, and his performance in The Devil’s Candy is no different. What makes his performance especially compelling is the way he is able to make audiences feel both sympathy and revulsion towards his character. Then there is relative newcomer Kiara Glasco (Bitten, Maps to the Stars) as Jesse’s daughter, Zooey. The way Glasco conveys the fear her character feels will give you chills. Together this cast is a force of nature driving the plot to its hellish climax.

The Devil’s Candy is a haunting film that perfectly melds disturbing events, satanic forces, dark imagery, and metal. The plot alone is interesting enough, but when it is combined with the music it becomes even more powerful. The Devil’s Candy also features amazing performances including a powerhouse portrayal by Embry. This is only Byrne’s second feature length film, and already he is making quite a name for himself in the horror industry. The Devil’s Candy is sure to be on many top ten lists for 2017.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10