Making its World Premiere at the Salem Horror Fest, The Strings offers an atmospheric exploration of isolation and creation...
...Ryan Glover’s directorial debut, written with Krista Dzialoszynski, takes place on the mostly abandoned tourist destination of Prince Edward Island during the desolate winter months. Alone with her thoughts, pianist Catherine (Teagan Johnston) uses her music to create a soundtrack for a film mostly devoid of dialogue and plot. The film will not appeal to everyone, but do not dismiss The Strings’ obscure approach to horror; the director relies less on conversation and story and more on perspective and sounds to create a tension-filled narrative.
The image of bloody hands holding a toolbox sets the tone and mood of the film from the first second. Along with the close-up of flesh and metal, the viewer hears the sounds of buzzing flies and witnesses the panning shot of an empty beach filled with large pieces of driftwood placed to create a path for the audience to follow. As the camera and the deadwood guide our eyes to the water, we see a man walk into the ocean and lift his arms as if he wishes to sacrifice himself. The opening gives no explanation and instead transitions to the main character Catherine as she loads up her van and drives through a snowy landscape. No sounds except for the noise of the road and the low background music, which consists of a choral voice holding a sustained note.
After a day of travel, Catherine checks into a hotel and we hear part of a phone conversation where our lead expresses some kind of relapse in an unnamed addiction, which we later learn is her ex-boyfriend. In this first and later phone calls, Catherine’s part of the conversation is the only one we hear, leaving us with only her responses and reactions. The one-sided discussion establishes Catherine as the center of the film; the director deems her words alone worth sharing. The phone call gives some insight into Catherine, but the conversation between herself and her keyboard offers a deeper glimpse into her thoughts as she attempts to sing about love being a sin, but eventually breaks down crying and pleads with herself to ‘stop’.
The next day, Catherine arrives at her cottage destination and once again the film goes mostly silent, aside from a few creaky footsteps as the pianist walks from room to room. Catherine journeyed to Prince Edwards Island to focus on herself and her upcoming album, and when not cleaning or practicing, she spends her time walking on frozen beaches and staring out the window. The world constantly seems to reach out to Catherine via texts and emails, but she prefers her isolation. Aside from some Zoom conversations with good friend Anita (April Aliermo), the world outside of the small town stays away. The quiet perspective grants Catherine independence and freedom from the constant questions about her music, ex, and life in general, but her late nights and perpetual drinking also indicate the tortured mindset of the isolated musician. Throughout the day we see Catherine carrying out mundane activities to organize the cottage to her liking or creating slow solemn music on her makeshift living-room-floor studio. Her ephemeral and whispery music almost resembles the soundtrack to Twin Peaks but with a drumbeat.
To break up the monotony of her lonely cottage, Catherine meets up with Grace (Jenna Schaefer) a photographer who enjoys taking pictures in creepy locations. As a special treat for her visiting friend, Grace shares the story of an abandoned farmhouse with a history of deaths, possibly linked to the opening scene of the movie. After the spooky photoshoot, the nighttime scares become more frequent and noticeable at the cottage. Objects unexplainably move and waking nightmares become a more common occurrence for Catherine.
The film creates an atmospheric and slow build, but would make for a great late night, middle of winter watching experience. Turn off all the lights and take up residency in the dark and cold cottage as The Strings pulls you into the quietness and builds tension through the constant feeling of isolation. Catherine does not express loneliness except in her song lyrics, and her daily activities grant her a level of empowerment as she wanders the landscape. Aside from a few visits from Grace, Catherine remains mostly alone. That is, except for the shadowy figure who constantly appears off in the distance or in the peripheral of her vision. So, watch the film in the dark, alone, and preferably on a cold winter night if you can. If you live by yourself, then you might find your home a little unnerving after seeing The Strings.
By Amylou Ahava
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