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Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
Directed by: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Antonio Mancino, Guido Adorni
Rated: NR (Suggested PG-13 for Some Disturbing Thematic Material)
Running Time: 1 h 32 m
TMM Score: 4 stars out of 5
STRENGTHS: Cinematography, Sound Design, Directing
WEAKNESSES: Pacing, Artistic Nature Will Deter Normal Genre Fans
A British sound engineer travels to Italy to help finish a horror film, only to find working on the film is a literal nightmare.
As I’ve been preparing for the 31 Nights of Thrills series, I’ve been scouring the Internet for whispers of good horror or thriller films, and this is one that came up on a few lists. I really didn’t know much about this film other than that it was about a sound engineer, played by Toby Jones, working to complete a horror movie. I started this film assuming from the credits that the movie might end in some sort of supernatural ordeal with witches, and settled into that mindset. As the film progressed, I was taken with how artistically executed it was. Many of the shots were shrouded in darkness, the sound design was incredibly deliberate, and the storyline was not at all conventional. What I thought at first might be a run of the mill supernatural thriller turned into an incredibly eerie experimental film about a man being driven to the edge of his sanity by his work.
"Nobody has seen this horror before."
Sound is the single most important part of this movie- the absence of it, the experimental way it’s used. There are times when the screen is black and all we can do is listen to the horrible sounds being played to us. One thing I really like about this film is the sparse use of actual dialogue. In many scenes, there are no actual lines of dialogue, just screams, guttural growls, the sounds of knives cutting into fruits and vegetables, and eerie wailing. The film starts somewhat straight, establishing our hero, Gilderoy (Toby Jones, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as a timid, nervous man whose only real connection to the world is his mother. We’re shown his character, personality, and back-story within a matter of minutes, and I don’t think a single word of dialogue was really necessary to establish all those things. Gildreoy is one of the only English speakers on the set, and while he’s slowly learning to speak Italian, the language barrier at the beginning of the film works to isolate him even further from everyone else. In fact, besides the director there’s only one character that speaks English well enough to commune, and she is one of the lead actresses, Silvia as Teresa (Fatma Mohamed, The Duke of Burgundy). Gilderoy and Silvia sort of bond over their ability to communicate, and for a while this gives Gilderoy a little bit of hope. But as the movie continues, even that relationship is threatened.
As Gilderoy continues his work on the film, it becomes apparent that the nightmarish sounds are starting to get to him. He begins to hear things at home, the sounds become almost a hellscape in which he’s forced to live every day. Honestly, perhaps the most impressive thing about this movie is the fact that it doesn’t use any sort of monster, creature, or even a human antagonist as the main villain- the scariest thing in this movie- the thing that is challenging Gilderoy the most- is the work itself. Gilderoy struggles to maintain focus and sanity with constant bombardment of sounds, the struggles of communicating with a crew from a different culture, and the feelings of isolation in a different country. It’s a very experimental piece, and I’m sure my describing it is doing it very poor justice; this is truly like no other horror movie you’ve seen before.
Now, while I would consider this a horror film, I wouldn’t consider it a horror film for everyone. This is a horror film for filmmakers and cinephiles, those who appreciate the art of what’s going on, and don’t mind thinking a bit more during their viewings. This isn’t a pretentious thing- I truly mean it when I say, that if you don’t typically enjoy arthouse cinema, then you can steer clear of this, because it will probably bore you. As a film, I believe this pushed some boundaries on what you can do with poetic imagery and nightmarish sounds; for a person interested in filmmaking, its an amazing look behind the scenes at how much of a difference a sound effect can make in a scene. For strictly genre fans- that is- people who want another haunted house or exorcism movie, don’t look here, this isn’t for you. As far as scares go, there aren’t many; it’s simply a constantly tense, foreboding atmosphere that never really lets up. There aren’t vicious killings, incredible twist endings, or paranormal spirits that make this film interesting; it’s the incredible craftsmanship and uniqueness of the story.
Overall I really enjoyed this film, but I can certainly see how this would not be everyone’s cup of tea. For those well versed in cinema, this could be a fascinating look at fresh take on horror. For those who want another Friday the 13th movie, try something else.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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