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IFI Horrorthon 2019 Review - THE BLACK STRING

the black string review
Following a bout of unprotected sex, a young man becomes increasingly paranoid and unhinged.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Brian Hanson

Starring: Frankie Muniz, Blake Webb, Chelsea Edmundson, Richard Handley

the black string poster




When it comes to gender representation, horror is the inverse of practically every other genre (perhaps not rom-coms), with the vast majority of modern horror movies fronted by women. You have to go back to the heyday of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price to find the last time male stars dominated the genre, and since the '70s horror's male stars have largely been hidden behind makeup and masks. Director Brian Hanson's The Black String stands out largely because it's a horror movie that features a man in peril at its centre.

the black string review


That man is Jonathan (Frankie Muniz), a thirtysomething whose dreams of becoming an artist have been cast aside as he now finds himself working 60 hours a week in a liquor store, yet still relies on his parents to pay half the rent on his Los Angeles apartment. Already Hanson has painted a bleak picture of modern urban life that will reverberate with the experiences of many millenial viewers, who find themselves in a world that offers little opportunities.

[ READ MORE: IFI Horrorthon 2019 Review - Bliss ]

But that's just the beginning of Jonathan's troubles. One night a TV commercial for a phone dating line appears to call out his name, and so he dials the number and arranges a date with a stranger. His date, the suspiciously attractive Dena (Chelsea Edmundson), seems to have little interest in Jonathan, so he's taken aback when she suggests they head back to his place. He's really taken aback when she pins him to his couch and voraciously ravages him, despite his pleas regarding his lack of protection. Every silver lining has a cloud though, and the following morning Jonathan wakes to find a nasty rash stretching from his groin to his abdomen.

the black string review


Over the course of the film, Jonathan's rash will spread, bringing with it an increasing sense of paranoia that draws him into a conspiracy involving an underground coven of witches using young women to seduce and infect gullible schmiels like himself. Janathan's attempts to alert friends and family to his situation fall on deaf ears, leading him to become homeless, living in a squat while he teams up with a sinister psychic (Mary K. DeVault) to find a way out of his predicament.

[ READ MORE: 10 Overlooked Horror Movies You Need To Watch This Halloween ]

As a portrait of a man who feels the world is ganging up on him, The Black String is something of a horror companion to Joker, but it uses its genre tropes more effectively than that blockbuster does. The body horror sub-genre here finds resonance with the fears most young Americans have regarding their inability to pay for treatment in a country without free healthcare, where getting sick can ruin your life. Jonathan's interactions with his parents - who come from a generation where life was more neatly laid out, and thus can't understand their son's worries - will no doubt strike a chord with many viewers.

the black string review


As a former child star who has struggled to find roles as an adult, Muniz is ideally cast here, and you suspect he may be channelling much of his own frustration into Jonathan. While The Black String comes off its hinges in a final act that runs out of ideas and descends into horror clichΓ©s, it's Muniz's performance that keeps us hooked, a manic cry for help that falls on deaf ears.

A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.




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