The Dark Strums is a horror short based on the legend of blues musician Robert Johnson. It was written, directed, and produced by Steven Alexander Russell and stars the talents of Kayland Jordan, Damian Rochester, and Olivia Griffin. I’ve heard the name Robert Johnson many times during the course of my life, in conversation and in literature, though I’d never paid it much attention. I’ve been into rock and metal for the majority of my time on this earth (except for a shameful two-year stint in rave culture in my teens), so I knew I needed the wisdom of someone more musically minded than I. A quick phone call later and I was intrigued. I listened to a few songs, “did my research,” and gave the film a viewing.
The legend of Johnson is a great one: A wandering musician who played where he could, Johnson’s life was shrouded in mystery. He recorded one album of near thirty songs—some of which became blues standard. He was mysteriously killed, perhaps poisoned, shortly after he began gaining popularity and his fame is was almost totally posthumous.
The greatest part of the story (and also the most fictitious) is that Johnson was apparently a decent harmonica player but a terrible guitarist. After disappearing for a few weeks in Mississippi, Johnson returned to the music scene a master musician. Folks attributed his sudden prowess to a deal with the devil, where he’d received his guitar in exchange for his soul. I know what you are thinking: “This would make a great horror movie!”
In honesty, this is what I want to see when it comes to horror films. This is what I want to see when it comes to indie productions. This is what I want to see in a short film. This is what I want to see. This film is a marriage of two loves; a love of music and a love of film. The Dark Strums invites us to witness an old blues legend reborn in a playful yet dark reimagining of an old American fable—the tragic story of Robert Johnson.
The Dark Strums doesn’t pretend to be a reimagining or a “based on a true story” film, instead taking its own, sinister direction. There’s a bit of then and a bit of now, with me probably enjoying the bit of then a littlemore as I have a soft spot for period horror. It does not fit neatly into any box but rather borrows elements from various genres, which I have to admit I rather liked. The story and the pace are easy to follow and constantly entertaining.
The opening shots are crisp, clean, and sharp with the editing mostly on point. There are a handful of hiccups where I felt the sounds and shots were either cut short or edited together oddly, but the rest of the first act was par excellence.
The second half of the film is something that feels personal, painful and relatable. The struggles of being an artist, the lack of appreciation, people telling you to get a “real” job…there’s the painful criticism coupled with self-doubt struggling endlessly against belief in one’s art and the desire to create, even if for a single person. It’s a concept that was cleverly used and a well-told story that respected its origins. Very watchable and very enjoyable.
Thanks for reading and as always, stay sordid. Trailer and poster below.
Site founder. Horror enthusiast. Metalhead.