There’s something growing out of Veronica’s eye.

Her tear duct is producing a long black string that dangles hideously, growing back as soon as she cuts it. When the anonymous (and expensive) phone service she uses for mental health assistance can’t help her, she has to take matters into her own hands and deal with the string herself. Horror short EYESTRING is an uncomfortable look at mental illness and the lack of resources available to those who deal with it. It’s also a cringe-inducing work of body horror that will have viewers checking their eyes every time they pass a mirror.

Alena Chinault, who plays Veronica, co-wrote EYESTRING with Javier Devitt, who directed and shot the short. They drop a few details early on in the film about Veronica’s mental health issues — she tells the phone service “concierge” that she’s lonely but that her recent attempts to “get out there” might be helping with her OCD. It’s an important moment because it informs how Veronica reacts to her gruesome eyestring, and it shows people who don’t have OCD what it feels like to live with it every day.

The terror of a string suddenly growing out of your eye is easy enough to understand. That’s one of the core tenets of body horror: an internal invader of your bodily autonomy elicits immediate feelings of disgust, panic, and betrayal. But there are specific elements of EYESTRING that feel especially familiar to viewers like me who have OCD. I understand the bewildered horror and obsessive single-mindedness that consume Veronica as she tries to figure out what’s going on and how to fix it. I understand how, if things aren’t exactly right, they feel like a literal loose thread constantly tickling my cheek, reminding me that my world is still slightly out of order. I understand the disgusting — and temporary — satisfaction she feels when she manages to pull the string all the way out, and I understand the fear as she faces what comes next.

Veronica is alone in a world that provides cryptic, misleading hints towards wellness, with no actual help available. While the string growing out of her eye is as frightening as it is revolting, the real terror is in how isolated she is as she faces her problem alone. The effective and disturbing EYESTRING draws a visceral reaction from its body horror concept, but the deeper horror lies in the daunting task of dealing with mental illness when you can’t find or afford help.

EYESTRING had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. Make sure to read our SXSW coverage here.

Jessica Scott
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