The Black String Movie Review
Written by Ren Zelen
Released by 4Digital Media
Directed by Brian Hanson
Written by Richard Handley, Brian Hanson and Andy Warrener
2018, 93 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest International Premiere on 26th August 2019
Frankie Muniz as Jonathan
Ravi Patel as Dr. May
Jackie Moore as Lollipop
Alexander Ward as The Entity
Chelsea Edmundson as Dena
We’ve all been told that unprotected sex with a stranger can result in unwanted, unpleasant or even dangerous consequences, but few of us ever imagine that it may cause us to be primed as a victim for a satanic cult.
Brian Hanson’s shocker The Black String has us follow twenty-something loner, Jonathan (Frankie Muniz, Malcom in the Middle, Agent Cody Banks). While his erstwhile classmates go to college, he finds himself working shifts at what he calls a "lifestyle experience boutique" – to the rest of us merely a run-of-the mill convenience store.
He spends his free time watching TV and sketching comic-book heroes and pin up girls, until late one night a TV advertisement catches his eye. The ad is encouraging guys to use a hotline to call ‘hot single girls in the area’. What’s weird about this ad is that it seems to be addressing Jonathan directly. He finds it too compelling to resist.
Next night the convenience store boss Eric (Blake Webb) is surprised and pleased that his lonely pal Jonathan has got a date, although he’s amused and rather wary when he finds out that it’s with a stranger from the other end of an outmoded telephone dateline, the number of which Jonathan got from a TV-ad. Eric teases him about taking a condom along on his date, but Jonathan solemnly assures him that he certainly does not intend to have sex with a total stranger.
However, Jonathan is impressed when his date turns out to be the attractive Dena (Chelsea Edmundson, Thunder Road) and is astounded and unprepared when she turns on the sexiness and seems determined to seduce him. Nervously aroused, he gives in.
Unprotected sex with strangers is never a good idea, but it turns out to be a very bad one indeed for Jonathan, as the morning after, Dena is gone and he has already begun to develop an angry rash filled with nasty pustules.
Upon seeing Jonathan’s skin eruptions boss Eric forbids him to come back to work until he has seen a doctor. The doc needs to take a swab of the rash to identify it, (we never hear what happens to that) but dismisses Jonathan with some pills.
Needless to say, the pills have no effect and before long Jonathan is having bad dreams and nightmarish visions of seething puddles of bubbling filth coming through the walls. Feeling ill, paranoid and desperate, Jonathan launches on a quest to find the Dena, the seductress who infected him and who is apparently unheard of at the address where he picked her up for their date.
Suffering from blackouts and hallucinations, during which he appears to have attacked Eric, Jonathan’s life begins to fall apart. Friends and family start to believe he's losing his mind, but Jonathan is convinced he's been cursed and poisoned – the unwitting victim of an evil cult that has targeted him.
While those around him try to persuade him that he needs psychiatric and medical help, Jonathan is so sure that deadly mystical forces are behind his misfortunes that he runs away from home and seeks the advice of seedy, tarot-card-reading witch Melinda (Mary K. DeVault).
Reckless sex and metaphorical STDs, literally or metaphorically, have been the bases of horror movies many times before, however, The Black String adds a satanically supernatural twist to the body horror genre. It offers weeping boils, mysterious covens, bloody rituals and malevolent creatures set against a backdrop of paranoia and mental breakdown.
Is the supernatural threat to Jonathan real or is it all a product of an unhinged mind? With a script co-written by Richard Handley, first-time director Brian Hanson's lo-fi indie horror keeps the viewer guessing, in a well-paced, grisly chase to find out what might really be going on.
Much of the atmosphere of paranoia and desperation depends on the central performance from Frankie Muniz, who manages to bring his usual brand of panicked energy to the ambiguous proceedings, making the possibility of insanity viable until the last frame.
My only quibble is that the last frame featuring Muniz should have ended the film, instead we have a postscript, which actually muddies what had been a satisfyingly unnerving and equivocal conclusion. The tension of this horror-thriller rather depends on what may be an increasingly unstable suffer through a personal kind of hell, and for the audience to remain unsettled as to what is real and what may be imaginary.
However, The Black String still proves to be a gripping watch, offering an effective central performance, disturbing hallucinations and some truly gruesome body horror.
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