Director/Writer: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Susanna Cappaellaro, Layla Amir, Eugenia Caruso, Antonio Mancino
Synopsis: Gilderoy (Jones), a sound engineer for a UK television and film industry is mysteriously hired to work on a psychological thriller in Italy. There in the Berberian Sound Studio Gilderoy’s mind starts to slip and he becomes more involved in the production.
The effect of sound in a horror film is, quite often, the determining factor in the movie’s ability to frighten you. The experience of Berberian Sound Studio is electrifying in its manipulation of sound and the resulting psychological outcome. It does not play on the tried conventions of violin shrieks or symbols clashing to have you jumping out of your seat. Instead, director Peter Strickland takes the audience through a very introspective analysis of sound effects and the jarring nature of their engineering.
Toby Jones’ Gilderoy, a mild-mannered, quiet sound-mixer, is the perfect figure to magnify the horror that emerges around him. Having a reserved protagonist secures empathy with a wide audience whilst making the events around the “average Joe” appear distressingly chaotic. As Gilderoy becomes an intrinsic part of the diegetic film’s creation, it is understandable to see how his daily intake of what we imagine to be distressing content haunts him to no end. Strickland never shows the audience the “Equestrian Vortex” film that Gilderoy is working on but one can gather that from the sounds and descriptions we hear, it is very traumatic. Jones does a terrific job at playing the various levels of distress that Gilderoy undergoes. The perky, slightly confused employee at the start soon evolves into a tired, jittery wreck – all masterfully expressed by the British character actor.
As Jones has mostly been seen in bit-parts and numerous supporting roles it is refreshing to see him at the forefront of a film (also note Infamous and the upcoming Hitchcock film, The Girl for Jones in the lead). His supporting cast are relatively unknown though all provide Gilderoy with enough foils, love interests and collaborators to make his experience in the Berberian Sound Studio all the more interesting.
As Gilderoy first walks through the bland-coloured corridors of the studio, echoes of a woman’s screams fill the ether – it is the beginning of wanting to find out more about this place as well as providing the film with an immediate omen of dread. Out of all the film’s triumphs it is the sound that is most impressive. Now on DVD/Blu-ray, the purchase or renting of Berberian Sound Studio deserves a surround sound system to enhance all the nuances of the film’s glorious noise. As much as the story itself stays with after the film ends, it is the notion of sound and volume that keeps Berberian Sound Studio in your mind long after you’ve finished watching it.
Strickland’s clear knowledge of the genre, along with particular muses (Lynch and Argento), gives the film a perfect pace, well-crafted characters and a captivating narrative. Harking back to the analogue engineering of sound effects, the 70s movie enterprise is lovingly recreated by Strickland and his set design team, adding to the feel of authenticity in the film. It is not the average slasher/paranormal/exorcism horror that regularly litters the cinemas, but a brilliant psychological voyage into sound and stress.
By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth.