'The String: A Grim Fable' is October 2020's Film of the Month winner

23 Nov 2020 in Film of the Month

11 mins
'The String: A Grim Fable' is October 2020's Film of the Month winner

We are delighted to announce that October 2020's Film of the Month winner is the appropriately spooky The String: A Grim Fable, from filmmaker Mathieu in Stirling in Scotland. See his winning film above!

The String: A Grim Fable (Engaging for 16+) is a psychological horror, told entirely without dialogue, that follows a young man whose life takes a disturbing turn when he wakes up tied to his bed. The film's precise pace and haunting imagery create a suspenseful atmosphere that explores themes of identity and life and death. 

Slick, engaging, and hugely enjoyable. The camera shots were brilliant and the inspired musical choice of Vivaldi's Winter really finished off what was a wonderful film experience for me. Excellent work!

Film of the Month judge on 'The String: A Grim Fable'

We got in touch with Mathieu to find out more about his film.

How did you start making films?

I've only ‘seriously' been making films (and by that I mean posting them on YouTube for the first time) for about two years now, but as far as I can remember, I've always enjoyed storytelling in all its forms. From an early age, my favourite activity was to play around with soldier toys and action figures, re-enacting scenes from movies I watched; in a sense this was my first endeavour into storytelling. 

Then, my brother and I used to make comedy skits together; they didn't really have any purpose other than to make ourselves and our family laugh, but that's when I initially started to play around with a camera. I helmed my first proper short film quite late, at 18 years old, but ever since, I've kept conceiving new ideas, all the while trying to improve my filmmaking craft. 

Despite its modest production, The String is by far my most ambitious film, on both a narrative and technical level. It represents the culmination of all my creative knowledge.

The String has a dark, scary edge to it. Is this your favourite type of film to make?

Reflecting on my other films [past Film of the Month runners-up The Call: Dark Recordings and Hourglass: A Tale of Dark Comedy] it might very well be! There are various other genres that I am attracted to, and would like to delve into, but Horror and stories with a grim edge have always been my favourites. 

I think there's something very primal about wanting to be scared; the cathartic sensation of challenging yourself to face your deepest, darkest fears. In our day-to-day lives, it's very hard to obtain this raw feeling, and I think fiction is the only medium that truly harkens back to it. Then again, Horror is a protean genre with so many different facets that all bring variant emotions worthy to explore. 

With my films, The Call is a high-adrenaline thriller, Hourglass is a twisted tale of black humour, whereas The String has more of a creepy and ominous ambience. I think the type of fear your story will exhibit entirely depends on the thematic you're dealing with; and in this case, the fear of death.

Your films are fantastic at slowly building a creepy feel for audiences. How did you develop this style?

When you look at any story that deals with tension and suspense, whether they're from Hitchcock or Quentin Tarantino, you'll notice that they all have the same underlying core principle: tension is like a rubber-band. As a filmmaker, your job is to stretch it until it snaps, but when it does you've reached the emotional climax and all palpable fear will fade away. The audience knows it's going to snap, but they don't know when, and that's precisely the emotional chord you're playing on: the uncertainty of not knowing exactly when and how things will unfold. The longer you can stretch it, cultivating that build-up, the louder and more unexpected the snap is. And the key to a good build-up is to keep introducing new little details that initially seem inconsequential to the plot (i.e. a close-up on a shoe-lace), but in reality serve to foreshadow things to come.

What was your inspiration for The String?

We were analysing a particular shot from the movie A Single Man in my film course; the shot itself was of Colin Firth's character just lying in bed, with the camera facing his feet. Somebody in my class pointed out how he looked like a body in a morgue, and the only thing missing was a name-tag on his toe, and that's when the idea for The String struck me. That movie has nothing in common with my short film (apart maybe for the theme of death), but it's interesting to see how this single shot spawned the concept for an entirely different story. 

It just shows how unpredictable and malleable inspiration is when it strikes. Once I had my initial idea going, I took influences from various other works such as A Ghost Story, the BBC series Inside Number 9 and most notably Don't Look Now (I took the entire concept of using omens to foreshadow future events from this movie).

How do you keep your film ideas original?

I don't think about keeping them original, because I'm not sure they entirely are. To me, the concept of the ‘Monomyth', as created by Joseph Campbell, and the notion that all stories have already been told has a lot of truth to it. The alternative I would offer to that statement is that: all situations have been told, but the context and perspectives in which they are portrayed are quite literally endless. 

For instance, The String shares some similarities with the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Godfather Death (which I didn't even know existed) but the stories themselves have very distinct angles. I think it has a lot to do with how you come up with an idea. 

For me, as a no-budget filmmaker, I usually brainstorm through ‘reverse engineering' - identifying what resources from my environment I already have at my disposition, and building an idea for a film around them (as I did with Hourglass). More often than not, this ensures that your films are - if not original - at least unique to yourself.

Did you face any challenges whilst making The String?

Lack of budget is the main problem I'm always faced with. With this film in particular, my script indicated the setting of one of the scenes as "DARK HOSPITAL ROOM". Difficult to find in normal times, and impossible during a global pandemic. 

However, the good side of not having any money to spare is that it forces you to find creative solutions to budgetary limitations. It really develops your problem solving skills, and you find yourself coming up with very ingenious alternatives. For The String, I reflected on what a hospital bed would look like, and what objects I had at my disposition. The result: a laptop with a YouTube video becomes a cardiac monitor, earphones and USB cables become medical tubes, cover the walls in black cloth and bathe the room in darkness, and there you have your hospital bed!

What emotion did you want the audience to feel when watching your film?

I think there's a cocktail of contradicting emotions you're supposed to feel when watching The String; calmness, surprise, curiosity and fear, just to name a few. One of my objectives with this film was to respect the classic three-act structure, and have each act focus on a particular emotion. Having the film start with a mundane (almost clichéd) morning routine, which gets interrupted by increasing omens, transitioning to an eerie mystery and finally concluding with utter dread as all the pieces of the puzzle come together. The hidden anecdote with this is that if you've ever done a creative writing class, and drawn narrative structure diagram, you'll notice that the three-act plot looks exactly like a heartbeat on a medical monitor!

Is there a particular film or writer that has inspired you to create films?

Not one single person/film in particular. I have many influences and one of the reasons I enjoy cinema so much is the plurality of the different artistic voices embodying it. Though I really love Quentin Tarantino.

What three tips would you give to someone that wants to start making scary films?

  • Sound design is crucial. There's a famous saying in filmmaking - "a bad image and good sound is always better than the reverse", and there's nothing more truthful than that. You don't need to have a good microphone; you can achieve everything in post-production. Doing it this way is extremely tedious and time-consuming, but if you're a perfectionist and like to have control over everything single sound, this is the way to go.
  • Jump-scares - don't overuse them! Jump-scares are fun and effective, if done properly and not over-utilised. If we use the rubber-band analogy once more, the snap is a jump-scare, but have too many rapid snaps and the tension becomes non-existent. Let the scene sink in, building up the dread, and then unleash the shock.
  • Mystery - keep things mysterious. Once you show the threat in full view (whether it's a monster, an individual or a force), you just demystified it in the eyes of the audience. By keeping the threat in the shadows, blurred in the background, where it's barely visible, you heighten the senses of the audience to apprehend every apparition of that threat.

Do you have any future film ideas to share with us?

I've got several projects in the works! I've been trying to develop Dark Recordings into a potential series, but without a budget, things have been going very slowly. So in the meantime, I make use of my lockdown free time to keep creating short films and am continually posting them on my YouTube channel!

Mathieu's film will now be showcased to over 300,000 film club members online and all of our Film of the Month films are now on the Into Film YouTube channel, and he has also secured a £100 Amazon voucher to help further develop their future films. Think you could win Film of the Month? Find out more about how you can enter our ongoing Film of the Month competition.

If you've been inspired by The String: A Grim Fable then make sure to check out the following films:

  • The Innocents (1961, 12, 99 mins) Engaging for ages 11+
    Set in Victorian England, this suspenseful psychological horror sees a governess fear for the safety of two orphans in her charger from supernatural occurrences.
  • Don't Look Now (1973, 15, 106 mins) Engaging for ages 16+
    One of the inspirations for The String, this timeless British horror follows a couple travelling to Venice in an attempt to forget the loss of their daughter.
  • Psycho (1960, 15, 109 mins) Engaging for ages 14+
    Classic psychological thriller from Alfred Hitchcock which sees a woman encounter danger a strange motel after stealing a large amount of money.
  • The Babadook (2014, 15, 90 mins) Engaging for ages 14+
    This unnerving horror sees a single mother and her son haunted by a mysterious figure from a children's book that arrives at their door. 

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