Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Strings, on Shudder

Catherine's moody ambient-techno music is the stuff teen girls listen to during suicide attempts. It doesn’t have the warming passion of soul or gospel and it lacks jazz’s improvisational spark to rouse you from your rut. However, it has an anesthetizing effect that works well for “elevated” horror. The musician wanted to get away from distractions, but she maybe isolates herself a little too much in Ryan Glover’s The Strings, which premieres today on Shudder.

Catherine just broke up with her band, which had been a successful relationship, and with her boyfriend, which was not. She drove from Toronto out to her late aunt’s remote Prince Edward Island cottage to write her debut solo EP, but her mind isn’t in the game. She had agreed to a photo shoot at a notorious farmhouse to humor Grace, a local photographer, whom she feels a budding attraction to. However, when she returns to the cottage, she notices weird shadows in the pictures—and the audience sees a malevolent shape lurking in the margins of the frame. Sometimes she thinks she sees it too.

When she does see it, you would think she would be more freaked out by it. Regardless, it takes about half-an-hour for anything really happens. We’re all in favor of “sophisticated” horror, but it still needs to consistently supply tension and suspense. There are some eerily effective sequences in this film, especially when Glover plays games with our perspective. Yet, there are also long, slow sequences of Catherine staring into the void. Plus, it all really should build to a bigger, more terrifying crescendo.

As part of Catherine’s search for inspiration, she has been exploring physics, particularly String Theory. That may or may not provide a partial explanation for what it going on, but at least it accounts for the title. In some ways,
The Strings shares aesthetic and thematic kinships with Sean Hogan’s We Always Find Ourselves at the Sea, but the latter is better served by the concentration that comes with the short film format.

Teagan Johnston is very good as Catherine, but the character’s anti-social impulses become exhausting to endure, just as they jeopardize her emotional health and leave her vulnerable to whatever might be stalking her. Johnston is also a musician, but her performances as Catherine remain within a very narrow range in terms of melody, harmony, and tempo, which reinforces the film’s one-note tone.

There is a lot of talent that is plainly evident in
The Strings, but it is overly strait-jacketed by Glover’s restrictive, “post-horror” approach. The wintery environment is bleak and the local lore is creepy, but the pacing is laborious. Only recommended for devotees of A24’s brand of horror, The Strings is now streaming on Shudder.