Life goes from boring and lonely to maddening and terrifying for twentysomething Jonathan, the protagonist of director Brian Hanson’s The Black String, a terrific supernatural/body horror film with paranoia thriller and film noir elements.
Jonathan, superbly portrayed by Frankie Muniz of Agent Cody Banks (2003) and the TV series Malcolm in the Middle (2000–2006), is a loner who lets life pass him by while working at what he calls a “lifestyle convenience boutique,” but what most of us refer to as a liquor store. His outgoing boss and friend Eric (Blake Webb of the American Horror Story  TV series and Alienate ) coaxes him into living life a bit more, which leads Jonathan to call a singles hotline number after seeing its seemingly personalized commercial on television.
As a result, Jonathan winds up on a date with the fetching Dena (Chelsea Edmunson of 14 Cameras and Howlers, both 2018) and contracting a horrid looking rash from having unprotected sex with her. He attempts to talk to her at the house where he met her, but some odd-acting residents there claim to have no idea who she is. This is only the beginning of Jonathan’s downward spiral, as events spin further out of control and his ever more fragile grip on reality leads him to acts of violence against himself, those few who are close to him, and others.
Hanson, who cowrote the screenplay with Richard Handley (Andy Warrener receives a story credit), performs a crackerjack job of balancing the intricate plot points and the variety of genre styles at play, as well as keeping on point the mystery of whether Jonathan’s belief that he is the victim of witchcraft is true, or whether he is actually suffering a mental breakdown.
Muniz is tremendous as Jonathan, and he has plenty to play with here on his character’s journey from slacker to shy guy trying to better himself, to what seems like a raving madman to his family, friend, strangers, and law enforcement and health care professionals. Muniz won FilmQuest’s coveted Cthulhu Trophy for Best Actor — Feature at that festival this year, and quite deservedly so. His performance alone is worth putting The Black String on your need-to-see list.
The film’s makeup and visual effects departments do a fine job, and a scene where Jonathan tries to extract the titular substance out of his arm is particularly unsettling. Muniz’s physical transformation from normal fellow to psychologically troubled person is aided greatly by those artists, as well.
The Black String is a stellar fright fare effort that boasts an impressive directorial debut, a dazzling performance by its star, and a story that weaves persecution complex and occult elements masterfully. It will assuredly find a spot on my list of top 10 horror films for 2019.
The Black String screened at FilmQuest, which ran at Velour in Provo, Utah, from September 6–14. After its festival run, the film will be released in the United States on Digital HD and DVD on September 24 from Grindstone Entertainment, a Lionsgate company.