Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Berberian Sound Studio

Grade: 75/B+

For fans of giallos, the lurid Italian horror films of the 1970s directed by the likes of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, Peter Strickland’s new film Berberian Sound Studio will no doubt be of interest. The film follows Gilderoy (Toby Jones), a mild-mannered British sound designer hired to work on an Italian film. Gilderoy is mortified when he realizes that the film in question, The Equestrian Vortex, is an incredibly violent horror film, and furthermore that the director and crew don’t much care whether or not he’s comfortable with it. Gilderoy takes a professional attitude toward the project, but the crew keeps pushing him around, and soon the film starts to have adverse effects on his mind.

One way to describe Berberian Sound Studio is “Blow Out without incident”, and though that’s a bit reductive, it must be stressed that the film is more creepy than frightening. No real violence is shown on-screen, but Strickland gets a lot of atmosphere out of the sounds of the giallo film, leaving the gory details to our imagination as we instead focus on Gilderoy’s clear discomfort with the material. Jones is fantastic, as ever, as an exceedingly milquetoast British gentleman thrown into a world of pulp and sleaze, and watching the character disappear down a rabbit hole and give in to the world is never less than fascinating (watch for a few key scenes with a spider).

The film goes gloriously gonzo in the final thirty minutes, but the film’s best sections are in the first half as Jones is steamrolled by obnoxious co-workers and has to deal with a sleazebag director with pretentions of artistry (“this is not a horror film…I hate what we do to these women, but I must tell the truth!”). It’s a very funny portrait of what goes on behind the scenes of a low-rent horror movie, but it’s also a loving portrait of just what goes into making effective horror films. It may be a little thin, but through Gilderoy’s work within the film’s story and Strickland’s own work with his sound team, Berberian Sound Studio is an effective, and effectively creepy, tribute to sound’s power in cinema.

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