Quick Hit: Definitely not for everyone, this intense thriller focuses on the sound of horror and is a very slow burn.
Horror has always owed a lot to its global nature. When you look at the J-horror craze that came with Ju-on (The Grudge) and Ringu (The Ring), and you look at the Italian masters of horror, like Dario Argento, and you look at great work coming out of other countries, like Troll Hunter (all in Dutch but well worth it) – you realize that a lot of modern day horror is a mix of different things. We’re all innately scared of things, at our cores, it just takes different ways to get there- something that Shannon touched on during our Halloween post.
Berberian Sound Studio pays tribute to all those Italian masters, and all those that came after them. Some of what was made is similar to the craze that followed the Saw franchise – namely “torture porn”. Essentially the thought is that a slow burning thriller can eventually become all about the violence. Sound Studio follows that though process by following a sound engineer (played by Toby Jones) as he travels to begin work on a horror film. It’s easily identified that he has been duped into the job – they are consistently giving him the runaround when it comes to benefits and compensation – but he throws himself into it nonetheless.
Toby Jones, as usual absolutely kills it in this role (pun unintended - for real). The man has a control of his facial expressions that is extremely rare. He's like the reverse of Jim Carrey in that sense.
Sounds are an integral part of horror, and this film pays delicate homage to that. Whether it’s Jones delicately working the dials when mixing the sound, or breaking a watermelon in order to make the sound of a splat, he gives many of the moments meaning that they wouldn’t have otherwise. There is a lot of really good camerawork present here, and the feeling of surrealness is amplified (no pun intended) by it. There is a pervading sense of wrongness that is omnipresent throughout the film, and it makes you really, really uncomfortable for reasons that you may be unsure of.
The film does end up falling off a bit towards the end – after pushing the film so much towards the surreal aspect, director Peter Strickland loses the ending by being just a bit too cliché for my tastes. The film works best as what it is – an homage to those unseen, to those behind the boards and the lights and the sets, behind the costumes and the makeup. In other words, all those categories at the Academy Awards that get glossed over, with the recipients only being allowed a brief expression of gratitude before unceremoniously being played off.
All in all, this film is one that students of horror probably should watch, even if the majority of modern audiences would be confused and hate it. For me, I’m going to give it a “B-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"