Review: Berberian Sound Studio

2013/06/13 16:03:50 +00:00 | Monte Yazzie

The Italian giallo has provided horror with some of the genre’s most memorable scenes. Names like Fulci, Argento, and Bava are just a few that have provided their exceptional skill in crafting the look and feel of the giallo motif. Those paradigms have influenced director Peter Strickland, as he has composed a film evocative of giallo filmmaking, but also purposed with a dedication to the detailed execution of a structured, element driven storytelling.

The setting is Italy in the seventies. An awkward, introverted sound engineer named Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is commissioned to work on a horror film called the “The Equestrian Vortex”. The director, Santini (Antonio Mancino), is an intimidating man who berates his crew consistently. Gilderoy works with Francesco (Cosimo Fusco), another abusive type, on the sound design for the film. The difficult work environment overwhelms Gilderoy, but more so are the terrifying and disturbing images he is fashioning the sound for. He becomes consumed and is lead into a nightmare of confusion.

Berberian Sound Studio is not your traditional horror film. There is no monster, no gore, and no straightforward frights. Instead, the film relies heavily on assisting design elements to forward the story, and slightly survives the monotony of a confounding narrative by crafting tension with an effective atmosphere and discomfort with the fantastic use of an ingenious sound scheme. The strong performance by Toby Jones is also an important detail for a narrative that is light on dialog from the main character.

Because the film being worked on is never seen, and only heard, it allows the viewer to connect the sound with some kind of imagery. The parts of the story that are exposed during Gilderoy’s labor are graphic and violent in description, which is divulged to the viewer through the use of character subtitles. This aspect is only further assisted by the necessary sounds being manipulated by the Foley artists who are shown taking blunt objects to various melon fruits in one of the scenes. While this isn’t necessarily scary, it’s a creative way to allow the sights and sounds Gilderoy is experiencing to penetrate the thoughts of the viewer watching the film. The facet works until Gilderoy becomes more affected by the film he is working on, which causes a never fully explained, but implied mental break that blurs the lines of his reality. This is a difficult execution for the film and ultimately the breaking point for the narrative. Because everything is still implied with assisting sound and editing elements the final act feels hurried and the viewer is left with more assumptions than answers.

For those willing to indulge in a slow moving, meticulously crafted non-traditional horror film, Berberian Sound Studio is an interesting effort. Toby Jones is good in the lead role and Peter Strickland displays impressive skill in the directing chair. This is not a film for everyone, and those looking for a conventional horror film will be disappointed in the lack of genre attributes. Still, it’s appreciative to see film attempt at promoting the topic of horror in a different way. Whether or not it’s successful rests in the hands of the fans, but for the most part Berberian Sound Studio achieves.

Film Score: 3.5/5