Running Time: 92 minutes
Director: Peter Strickland
Cast: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco and Tonia Sotiropoulou
A sound engineer’s work for an Italian horror studio becomes a terrifying case of life imitating art.
PETER Strickland’s eerie horror feature, Berberian Sound Studio, certificate 15, is a wonderfully slow-burning little feature. It replaces outright gore and shock tactics with a slow atmospheric build up. It’s an insightful look at the nature of filmmaking that might be an unsettling watch for some viewers.
The film stars British actor, Toby Jones as the talented sound Engineer, Gilderoy. Who travels to Italy, upon the request of the renowned director Santini, played by Antonio Mancino. Upon his arrival, he finds his co-workers hostile and unfriendly towards his British quirks and mannerisms. Burying himself in his work that showcases his considerable audible talents.
Working on Santini’s latest project, The Equestrian Vortex. A truly horrid sounding feature, with several scenes involving the graphic torture of young women. Strickland’s greatest masterstroke in this dark feature is to never show viewers any of the films Gilderoy is working on.
Instead we see the reaction of the actors to what they are viewing, and more importantly the sounds Gilderoy creates to represent what is happening on-screen. Memorably, he pours oil over a hot frying pan, to recreate the sound of women having her vagina prodded by a hot poker.
The film’s setup is rather sluggish but it’s an interesting watch, the director finds considerable humor from the recreation of the sounds of the film. At the start of the film, there’s a general sweetness about Jones’ character, he still lives at home with his mother and works on his sounds in his shed. But he slowly begins to lose his mind, disgusted by what he sees onscreen and struggling to work with his Italian colleagues.
He speaks little Italian and finds daily life a struggle, concerned by the studio’s refusal to honor his expense claims. Never venturing outside, even sleeping in the studio itself. In a genuinely sweet moment, he recreates the familiar sounds of home to find some comfort. Letters from his mother only aggravate him further, fuelling his homesickness
Jones gives a wonderful performance throughout. It’s great to see the British actor, given such a challenging leading role and handling it so effortlessly.
As Gilderoy’s mind slowly begins to unravel, his professional and private life slowly begin to merge. By the feature’s climax, his character is left as a vacuous empty shell of a man. His sudden ability to learn Italian will leave some to wonder what is actually going on.
Some horror fans might be left disappointed by the lack of any bloodletting or gore throughout the film. However, Strickland’s dark atmospheric film masterfully created a growing sense of unease as it played out, seemingly building towards a final reveal or revelation.
Sadly though, such a revelation never comes, in a move which might frustrate some viewers, the film ends with a whimper rather than a bang. Some might be left a little underwhelmed by the feature, as it leaves viewers to come to their own conclusions on the film’s ending.
Berberian Sound Studio has received largely positive praise with many film critics lavishing considerable praise upon the movie. It has also benefited from the great festival buzz. At the Film 4 FrightFest, the movie was awarded the coveted Best Film Award.
Personally, though, I must admit that the film played out very differently than my initial preconceptions. But I still enjoyed Strickland’s film. It’s a wonderful open love letter to the filmmaking craft of the analog era of cinema making.
With so many filmmakers switching towards digital film editing techniques, it’s great to see a film that reminds us just how inventive and talented those people behind the scenes in the film industry, during the early 1970’s and 1980’s actually were.
A film to be watched and enjoyed, just don’t expect any torture porn or bucket loads of the crimson stuff on display as this feature is much more of a cerebral affair.