Published Oct 01, 2020Anchored by a naturalistic lead performance, an isolated landscape captured in beautiful wide shots, and an anxiety-driven score, The Strings is part psychological thriller and part musical horror movie. Those who stick with the film's slow-burn journey through artistic expression and paranoia will be rewarded with a unique (and very PEI) take on a haunted house movie.
The Strings is the story of Catherine (Teagan Johnston, a.k.a. Toronto-based indie alt-pop artist Little Coyote), an up-and-coming musician who has recently split with her band to embark on a solo career. Having reached a standstill in her creative process, Catherine decides to make the long snowy drive to her aunt's remote seaside cottage on Prince Edward Island. The cabin is cold and isolated, and, initially, Catherine seems directionless and melancholy after recent personal and professional breakups. But it ends up being just what she needs to refocus on writing and recording an album in solitude.
More atmospheric than narrative-focused, we don't get a sense that anything is wrong except for Catherine's frustration with her writer's block and persistent, stress-induced insomnia. But during a photoshoot, Catherine and local photographer Grace (Jenna Schaefer) — with whom she has more than a bit of flirtation — take photos at an abandoned farmhouse with a history of suspicious deaths. The farmhouse is delipidated and creepy, and the photos turn out great — except for the weird shapes Catherine notices lurking behind her. More and more unsettling things start to add up, including an odd stranger who suddenly appears at the beach, and Catherine's anxieties begin to spiral out of control.
Johnston wrote several original songs for The Strings, all of which are performed in their entirety during the film with an intimacy that feels like attending a tiny performance in an artist's basement, bringing us deep into an artist's head during their creative process. The rest of the film's score is haunting and discordant, fitting with the desolate, frozen atmosphere and the dark, dreamy music Catherine composes at the cottage.
Aside from the score, The Strings also excels visually, featuring more than a few stunning wide shots with single lonely figures standing in the centre, lending even more of a surreal, alien feel to the empty landscapes surrounding Catherine's cottage. It's easy to imagine strange supernatural forces inhabiting this landscape, and The Strings suggests that it's not that the cottage itself is haunted, but perhaps Catherine herself has inadvertently brought something in. It's a quieter, more internal manifestation of a haunted house movie, and one that's both visually and sonically arresting.
Salem Horror Festival is taking place online from October 2 to 11. (Observer Effect)