Ever wondered what the guy from Malcolm in the Middle was up to these days? Not the dad, everyone knows what he went on to. The guy behind Malcolm himself – Frankie Muniz (Big Fat Liar 2002, Agent Cody Banks 2003). He appeared as himself in Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 and the Preacher series, then he did two Sharknado films as apparently different characters, but now he is back in the new Horror Thriller The Black String.
Arriving on DVD, Digital, and On Demand Tuesday, September 24th through Lionsgate, The Black String is the directorial debut from Brian Hanson, written by himself and Richard Handley (Finding Fortune 2016. Devil’s Whisper 2017). Based on story by Andy Warrener, the film follows Jonathan (Muniz), a convenience store worker who gets the unfortunate luck to have a date with a woman called Dena (Chelsea Edmundson: Midnight Texas 2018, Thunder Road 2018). Afterwards, he finds himself struck by illness and hallucinations. He thinks the only way out is to find Dena again, while his family, and friends like Eric (Blake Webb: NCIS series, 13 Reasons Why series), think he is going insane. Is one side or the other right? Or maybe they both are right? Moreover, is The Black String worth the time, or is better left on the shelf?
Well, the premise is interesting. Muniz’s Jonathan cuts an interesting figure too, as a person who has problems even before his fateful date. He is already awkward and a little paranoid, living a relatively shut-off existence where most of his outdoor forays involve jogging to work. So, there is a little ambiguity to the story. Perhaps it all stemmed from the start and not with Dena, despite the scary strings and horns of horror that play on the soundtrack.
That said, The Black String does not avoid the spooky stuff because Jonathan’s descent certainly has its fair share of twist and turns, with auditory and visual hallucinations. Looming, mysterious men in dark hats, shifting walls, things happening without rhyme or reason. It keeps up the tension over whether it is real, part of Jonathan’s sickness, or even something from his past coming back. It works rather well too, building up the atmosphere of unease as the film progresses.
It also helps that Muniz does good work here, doing an effective job as someone who was not all that secure gradually falling apart. Webb and Edmundson crop up less often, though they do a strong job with their roles. Particularly Webb, who’s fun-loving stoner role makes an impression from being the kind of character one would see in a goofy comedy to a more serious, worried figure. However, Colby French (Grosse Point Blank 1997, Eagle Eye 2008) could have been a little stronger as Jonathan’s dad, as he sounds like he is phoning it in in places.
So, the direction of The Black String strong, the spooky stuff is adequately spooky and the plot intriguing enough, plus there are some good performances on offer. Yet, there is something holding this film back behind other, similar stories of doubt and terror. Things do ramp up within the first half of the film, though it feels like it is dragging its heels. The pace is rather sluggish and can leave one wondering whether they should stick it out to the end. Muniz and the crew do plenty to convince the audience to stay, where it becomes a battle between the “who knows?” plot against the “who cares?” feeling that may gradually creep in.
All this said, is The Black String a bad film? Maybe not for the more patient viewer who can tough it out through to its ultimate twist and finale. Though it is a shame that it feels like it runs twice its 1 hour and 40-minute duration. There are similar Mystery Thrillers that manage to do a lot more with either less technical proficiency or less sets and cast to work with. Ultimately, The Black String has all the right stuff, yet it does not quite come together to make it pop. That is why Cryptic Rock give it 3 out of 5 stars.
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