The Strings (2021) Is as Empty and Haunting as the Music It Creates
Title: The Strings
First Non-Festival Release: November 23, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Ryan Glover
Writer: Ryan Glover, Krista Dzialoszynski
Runtime: 94 Minutes
Starring: Teagan Johnston, Jenna Schaefer, April Aliermo
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Successful musician Catherine (Teagan Johnston) travels to her aunt’s remote cottage in hopes of recording new music. Fresh off a hiatus with her band and messy breakup with her boyfriend, Catherine is looking for an escape and a reason to be productive. Local photographer Grace (Jenna Schaefer) is exactly the distraction she needs. After the two complete a photoshoot for Catherine at an abandoned home with a sordid history, the reclusive musician finds herself tormented by strange happenings and dark figures at night. Is she going insane or is something more sinister happening to her?
The Strings fizzles out in typical threadbare indie film fashion before it has a chance to even make a spark.
Most of the runtime in The Strings is dedicated to the mundane life of Catherine, who may be one of the most uninteresting protagonists in recent history. An amorphous story makes it frustratingly difficult to connect with the terror affecting her. There is ambiguity in how the presence attaches itself to Catherine and how it operates, which is refreshing but the absolute lack of understanding doesn’t make it scary. From both a narrative and entertainment sense, it makes it underwhelming. Miserable pacing and static movement within the confines of Catherine’s surroundings contribute to the misfires here too.
What’s more Teagan Johnston gives a listless performance as bland and static as Catherine. I don’t blame her given the material. She is tasked with making the character come to life and the script does not do her any favors in aiding that journey. The dialogue doesn’t feel natural at all. It’s already scant given that most of the film follows Catherine alone. Her parts in general feel particularly forced. She is written as a headstrong musician but more often comes off as someone who wants to be perceived as cool despite being far from it. This could be a choice to lead to more insight into the character or it’s just a failure of communication between the director and actress.
The presence is the only male figure we see in the film. Men are talked about and even have some moments where they are voiced but primarily the entire film is populated by women. This presence looms over Catherine much like her recently failed relationship with her ex-boyfriend. The same avoidance she feels towards him is mimicked in this entity. It’s entrance into her life is unexpected and haunts her as she makes sense of her feelings. Grace complicates things and when her path crosses with the presence it ends in an appropriate manner for the metaphor.
The Strings does muster up some nice technical merits despite being a laborious watch. Plenty of moody establishing shots are used within The Strings that amp up the isolation and loneliness Catherine feels. Despite the locale’s beauty, these moments feel haunting and even menacing at times. The music here is serviceable but does seem to take over the film to the detraction of its story. It certainly does sound like the musings of a tortured artist experiencing some dark emotions in desolation, which feels appropriate for the film. Overall, the film’s somber tone makes for a nice deviation from more bombastic offerings as of late.
Soul-crushingly slow and painfully indulgent, The Strings is slow burn horror without any payoff. Boasting a decidedly creeping atmosphere and unsettling set pieces, The Strings fails to make the most of its surroundings and premise. Stiff acting and an irritating emphasis on overproduced indie music bog down the film’s potential and take away from its story. I admire the tenacity of a clear underdog film but find The Strings lack of ambition disappointing. Fans of more restrained horror with heavy reliance on intrapersonal drama may find something exciting in The Strings but most others will find themselves lost in the monotony of a woman recording music and staring into space.
Overall Score? 3.5/10