The Strings is pure vibe-y lite-horror, director Ryan Glover skilled at eerie mood-setting and constructing effective compositions and ambiance.
Ryan Glover’s new film The Strings is almost entirely a one-woman show. An evocative, moody chamber piece, the film (co-written by Glover and Krista Dzialoszynski) follows musician Catherine (Teagan Johnston) as she absconds to the frigid shores of Prince Edward Island to get away from the pressures of everyday life. She’s recently broken up with her boyfriend and ended their band, and now seems determined to make her own music free of any other outside influence. There’s barely a hint of plot, which amounts only to Catherine meeting photographer Grace (Jenna Schaefer) and beginning a tentative, halting courtship, while occasionally talking to her manager and ensuring a phone interview with a journalist that only wants to talk about her defunct band. She seems to crave the isolation, spending her nights watching YouTube videos and tinkering with her keyboards and a 4-track.
But there’s something sinister creeping around the edges of the image, a ghostly presence that emerges from shadows with malevolent intent. Glover, acting as his own cinematographer, begins the film with this mysterious male figure standing alone on a beach. The camera makes a slow 180-degree pan that ends with the man seemingly drowning himself in the ocean, surrounded by naturally formed structures hurtling up out of the surf. The film deploys this widescreen frame to great effect, fully capturing the desolate, barren winter landscape that surrounds Catherine and the specter that haunts her. Her home is enveloped by emptiness, with nary another living soul in view. Glover excels at lopsided compositions, leaving large swaths of the frame empty, juxtaposed with closeups of Catherine performing or recording music. Ultimately, The Strings isn’t much of a horror film, ending abruptly just when then horror is starting to ramp up. But the film’s mood is so enchanting, so eerily composed, that one can’t help but sink into it. Johnston herself is an actual musician who writes and performs under the name Little Coyote, and composed the score and multiple song fragments for The Strings live, on set during filming. The music very much sets the tenor and tempo for the film — slow, ethereal electronic beats and quiet, repetitive lyrics that become poetic koans of a sort. It invites reverie, which makes it all the more startling when a ghost breaks this carefully constructed ambiance. For viewers attuned to vibes over plot, there’s much to like about The Strings, and Glover looks like a filmmaker to keep an eye on.
You can stream Ryan Glover’s The Strings on Shudder beginning on November 23.