Shudder Streaming: The Strings (2021) - Reviewed

Moving to a different city is tough.  Compound that with a breakup and it becomes even tougher.  Add a shadowy figure into the mix, and it’s game over.  In Ryan Glover’s Shudder Original The Strings, the protagonist has exactly this unfortunate amalgam of stresses, and while the film mostly doesn’t succeed in telling her story, it at least knows how to be moody about it.


Catherine (Teagan Johnston) is a musician who moves into her aunt’s cottage in a different province near Ontario in order to clear her head following a breakup and work on a new album.  Mostly isolated, the only interactions she seems to have are with her agent, her friend Anita (April Aliermo), and a photographer whom she befriends named Grace (Jenna Schaefer).  The longer Catherine stays at her new home, the more mysterious events occur.  She begins to have nightmares, hears strange noises, and sees an unsettling shadowy figure that gets closer and closer to her every time she sees it.  Who is this dark visitor, and what does it have in store for Catherine?

While the premise sounds intriguing, The Strings is a largely uneventful movie.  The majority of the time, the film shows Catherine laboring over her music, taking walks on the beach, watching videos, doing photoshoots, and other activities that equate to a stagnant, exhausting character study and nothing more.  Hardly anything resembling a plot happens until its second half, and for those hoping for genuine horror from this Shudder film, the few noises and shadow man don’t amount to much in terms of scares. 


The viewer would be better off going into the film hoping for a loose examination of the creative process so they are pleasantly surprised when anything moves forward the wafer-thin plot.  The Strings is emphatic about Catherine’s music-making, and the soundtrack we’re given is consequently its strongest feature.  Adrian Ellis’s score combined with the synth-focused music Catherine herself creates in the film are both haunting, enveloping, and powerful.  Interesting to note is that Teagan Johnston is an indie musician named Little Coyote in real life, and her passion for music shines through in her performance.


Outside of the soundtrack and a few noteworthy shots — specifically the strong opening which pans across a deserted beach covered in tree stumps as a man creeps into frame — there’s little else going for The Strings.  The character of Catherine isn’t nearly likable or compelling enough to be a one-woman show, which this film essentially is until closer to the climax.  She quietly meanders from one activity to the next, with the camera spending exorbitant amounts of time on her making music.  In short, the film asks too much of the audience without much payback in the end.


The Strings feels like an extended music video:  it showcases songs and has an ambiance about it, but there is nothing to glue together these elements into a substantial piece.  Perhaps it would have worked better as a short, but the story presented here is hardly feature film material.  


—Andrea Riley