A sound engineer's work for an Italian horror studio becomes a terrifying case of life imitating art.
This is going to be a difficult film to review, I think it's best you know as little as possible going to see it. But make no mistake, do go see it. Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio is probably the best film released this year. At once it is a send-up to the power of sound, an homage to the 'Gallio' works of Dario Argento and a deconstruction of horror cinema. It isn't for everyone, it is pretty perplexing, but let it wash over you and you'll experience one of the best horror films of the last ten years.
Gilderoy is a rather droopy looking English sound technician, who has been hired to work on a rather gruesome low-budget schlock Italian horror film. When he arrives he is absorbed into the Kafka-esque studio, where his definitive English-ness and stickling over receipts get on the nerves of his peers. Soon he is introduced to the seedy, flamboyant director and given keys to his studio. Here he discovers what sort of film he will be working on, to his surprise and supposed delight. This is a world he is not used to, were Vegtables double as devices to illustrate the most gruesome of murders.
Straddling the line between horror and art cinema, Strictland's film borrows on a rich herritage of surrealist and metaphysical films to create this absorbing psychological thriller. You could almost make a game out of naming influences. The film is influenced and even directly lifts from the Bergman's Persona. The film play's out like the opening 30 minutes of David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE and the ominous red 'Silencio' sign will surely strike a chord with Mulholland Drive fans. The idea of being obsessed and even becoming one with horror films owes a debt to Cronenberg's Videodrome. But we can go further than that! Surely the language barrier and borish producer are lifted from Goddard's Les Mepris? Or the claustraphobic paranoia and surgical approach to sound have been borrowed from The Conversation, Repulsion or Blow Out? There is even a hint at Psycho somewhere in there. This is not to undersell Berberian Sound Studio as a film with no ideas of it's own, it most certainly has them but it takes its cues from the masters.
We see nothing from The Equestrian Vortex, except the opening credits (which may inspire someone to pull a Machete on us.) Instead we are given everything through Gilderoy's point of view as he creates the sound effects for these grizzly images. He initally sets about it in pragmatic style, approaching it with the same attitude one would approach doing taxes. But slowly, as the seedy exploitive narrative expands into the studio, it begins to take over Gilderoy who finds his life and his film intertwining. Is Strictland offering up a criticism of the role of a filmmaker? Or is it more ecompassing into the idea of identity and deception? Gilderoy initially takes the moral highground, distinguishing himself from those who reveal in 'Sex! Gore! and Satan!' but in the end his intruige and delight win out over his aprehensions. We are shown one piece of film though, a scene that he is most proud of; a Documentary on his home town, Dorking. Although, is this piece of work his? Or is it a lie?
There is no sense of time here in the Sound Studio. We do not know how long has passed inbetween scenes, there are no doors or outside locations to check the time of day and so we become lost in it outselves. Toby Jones gives the best performance of his career as Gilderoy, his casting is inspired as he looks the perfect part between stickly, child like and unsettlingly cold. Berberian Sound Studio is, perhaps surprisingly given it's name and subject, given a lot detail to its cinematography. Filled with cold, ugly buildings and cramped exteriors we create a sense of claustraphobic dread. There is a variety of techniques such as focus and colour to create this dreamlike atmosphere, as well as recurring shots of reels and mics. If the camera lenses is the eye, then the mic is the mouth piece. Finally there is the constant visual and audio motif between fruit and vegtables being used as items for murder. Suggesting the unhinged, unnaturalness of everything within the Studio.
Berberian Sound Studio hit's all the right notes in all the right places as a meta-film, a surreal trip and as a homage to an important sub-genre in horror cinema. I highly recommend checking this one out. Strictland is endanger of being snapped up by the system himself if this proves to be as successful financially as critically. This is one movie I can't wait to see and hear again.