A Coffin of Stars
Dec 1, 2023
Matthew Ewald, Eileen Dietz, John Johnson
Alright, there’s not much romance in it – but that is pretty much the only genre not mixed into the insane melting pot that is A Coffin of Stars. A sci-fi, drama, horror, action, conspiracy thriller and more all in one, it’s an impressive act to balance the multitude of elements into something entertaining and coherent, if imperfect and technically messy.
Former army ranger Liam Bishop (director Matthew Ewald) notices strange, extraterrestrial occurrences haunting his home deep in rural Virginia. Met with scepticism over his beliefs, Bishop sets out to investigate the phenomenon himself. But as he delves deeper into his alien conspiracy, he finds that the otherworldly attackers have not chosen Virginia at random…
A Coffin of Stars shoots for the, well, stars – and Matthew Ewald’s ambitious vision drives what an at-times rip-roaring B-movie spectacular that grips with intense action and an engaging central conspiracy-style plotline. Ewald has a true talent for building tension, and scenes in which Bishop tentatively hunts down clues for what is terrorising his home are really fantastic. Obviously interrupted by jump-scares, these do not have a gimmicky or reliant feel that burden poor horror movies, but instead feel earned, natural and informing of the threat that Bishop faces. Intense doesn’t do it justice. The highs really are high.
Unfortunately, the lows are low, and a convoluted plot means that tension and mystery only take things so far. A powerful, emotive conclusion that brings the story around is lacking, and even with a relatively shorter length for a feature, the story drags on in between action sequences. Technically the film is a mess, and whilst cheaper visual effects add to the B-movie charm, dreadful disparity in sound levels that mean scenes switching from illegibly quiet to eardrum-rupturing loud is a less acceptable or understandable flaw. The film is complicated enough without having to strain to hear crucial dialogue, and it’s a shame that this will be a major takeaway for many viewers.
Ewald himself demonstrates real talent in his performance in the leading role, bringing a sadness, trauma and intensity to Liam Bishop that prevents the character from becoming a clichéd ex-army hoarder figure. There’s an emotion behind the eyes that Ewald maintains throughout the film, of a man who has lived through too many tragedies – but can’t drag himself away from plunging into another. His relationship with daughter Evie (Adelai Love) provides additional emotional beat, but frustratingly feels underexplored and underdeveloped by the film’s end.
Brilliant and intense action scenes and a captivating exploration of an alien plot mean A Coffin of Stars is well-worth checking out despite its flaws. The film combines and experiments with genres and feels genuinely experimental and fresh, though its strengths lie in the basics of a strong leading character, engaging set-pieces and strong visual storytelling.