‘The Black String’ is a Visceral Experience

Jonathan (Frankie Muniz) is a millennial still trying to figure things out in his life. When loneliness prompts him to call a hotline that sets him up with a local single, he meets Dena (Chelsea Edmundson). Despite his intentions to keep it in his pants on their first date, Dena vociferously talks him into nailing her. Naturally, he doesn’t strap it up before they slap it up, and the next morning he finds himself alone and with an absolutely disgusting rash. Jonathan becomes more and more erratic and increasingly paranoid that he’s part of a cult conspiracy dedicated to destroying him.

“Me, America’s sweetheart! Can you believe it?”

It’s a good thing Muniz is still so damned adorable even in his mid-thirties, ’cause this movie is seriously nasty. The visuals are abhorrent. The rash full of pus, the bloody string that Jonathan pulls out of his arm, the portal full of bubbling goo. I felt morning-sickness level nausea throughout. It didn’t make me respect the movie less, but I feel I should warn you.

Yep, get ready for him to lift that shirt and show off that rash many more times, in closeup. And if you guessed that none of the many medical professionals he sees throughout will be able to treat it, you’d be correct.

I liked the movie, but I was seriously puzzled as to how to relate to it until I was looking for images for this post and saw that one reviewer had classified it as a dark comedy. Then it clicked into place for me. I had noticed bits of humor, but to reframe the whole thing as a horror comedy blew my mind. I’m assuming that you, like me, know Muniz almost entirely from Malcolm in the Middle, so he’s safely in our minds as a kid. This casting is brilliant because Jonathan is still hugely immature and unsuccessful from an American perspective: he works a dead-end job (at a liquor store, which he refers to as a “lifestyle convenience boutique”), his parents are paying half his rent, and he’s desperately single. Like a typical movie character with an arc building, he tends to run from his problems. At one point in the film he ends up living at home with his parents: his gruff and bossy father and his indulgent and smother-y mother. This culminates in him jumping out his bedroom window and running away. It further culminates in him having only the clothes on his back (he doesn’t even have shoes), no vehicle, and no money. Somehow he still has his Walkman, which he listens to perpetually while riding around on a stolen bike. Okay, it’s a tragi-comedy.

“You can’t catch me, problems! I’ll NEVER face you head-on!”

But Jonathan is still a compelling character, especially compared to his best friend Eric, who while being slightly farther up the corporate ladder (he’s the shift manager) and therefore of more worth in Jonathan’s parents’ eyes, is a shameless womanizer, referring to being familiar with the collective group of local women as knowing “every pair of tits in this town” and getting high in the stock room. Jonathan has depth. He’s an artist, dammit! It’s not discussed whether it’s a serious dream he wishes to pursue, but it’s clear that every time he gets distracted from it, some bad shit goes down. He’s sketching when a commercial for the dating site comes on the TV. He draws Dena after she insists on coming back to his place. She consistently interrupts him, trying to persuade him to smoke and then just climbing on top of him. This is the last time in the movie he draws; the only other time his hobby is relevant to the plot is when he’s trying to find Dena and using his portrait of her.

“I’m sooooo into you. Nothing about this date is suspicious at all.”

Despite being amusing, the film is also quite disturbing. What is actually happening in the reality of the movie is mysterious. We get glimpses of the supernatural explanation for Jonathan’s problems from a pamphlet a tarot card reader named Ms. Melinda (Mary K. DeVault) gives him. It appears that he’s been targeted by a witch so he can be “seeded” for the “harvest”, in which a creature eats? the black string Dena apparently embedded in him. In order to save himself he has to make a “sacrifice”. I recommend that you be smarter than me and pause the movie to read the entirety of the passages–it’s only for a few seconds, but they’re visible. Plus the illustrations of the hangdog guy in overalls are a hoot. It’s also entirely possible though that Jonathan is just delusional. There’s no actual evidence in the film that what he’s going through is real. It seems real, because we see what he sees, but no one else does. Melinda believes and empathizes with him, but can we trust her?

Just look how messy her hair is in this scene!

Overall, I really enjoyed it. It’s definitely not your typical STDemon movie.

“Hey, little help?”

Published by GhoulieJoe

I wuvs the horror movies and like to write snarky reviews about them. I also included some pretentious as hell microfiction (don't worry, it's at the bottom).

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