Set in the golden age of Italian horror, the 1970’s, Berberian Sound Studio sees (the brilliant) Toby Jones play a mousy film sound engineer (from Dorking) working in a post-production sound studio in Italy. This tacky, shoddy, and sinister place; the Berberian sound studio of the title is full of dark corridors and distant, repeated screams, where our hero must provide the electronic sound effects, music and dialogue overdubbing on pulpy low-budget Italian horror shockers. As the film progresses Jones’ meek Gilderoy descends deeper into imagined (or not) horror, terror (like in a great horror movie).
To liken Berberian Sound Studio to the glut of “found footage” horror doing the rounds these days, or to lump it in with the nauseating slew of torture porn nonsense or even to liken it to decent modern horrors, does it a huge disservice. It’s not a new trick to use SOUND in the overly visual movie discipline, we have already seen Gene Hackman’s professional eavesdropper in The Conversation and John Travolta’s sound-effects guy in Blow Out, but never has horror been the aim of the sound, Berberian Sound Studio is like the first shrike of Psycho’s violins, stretch for 90 minutes.
There is nothing glamorous about the movie business in Berberian Sound Stusio as poor homesick Gilderoy winds up working on an explicit, and exploitative horror called The Equestrian Vortex. A bunch of very unHollywood bored Foley artists aurally simulate sex and violence by slapping, beating, slicing, crunching and stabbing vegetables, while female voicestars give operatic screams in sound booths. Holding it all together is the every excellent Toby Jones, who is (as ever) excellent.
Berberian Sound Studio has a bunch of odd characters, to heighten / excuse Gilderoy’s twitchiness; we get turns from Berberian Sound Studio film within a film’s queasy producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) and the sinister director Santini (Antonio Mancino). British fish out of water Gilderoy baffles and irritates everyone with his Englishness, but this only adds to the unease and sensual horror of the sounds, the screams, the scrapes, the clunks, the clicks, the electro stabs and worst of all the deafening SILENCES!
This film, is a real lesson in film making and horror film making, and it sends recent horrors churned out by the mill of mediocrity (like the Possession, Paranormal Activity 3 etc. etc.) to its room to think about what it’s done!
Berberian Sound Studio’s director Peter Strickland (gave a clear declaration of intent when he said, ‘I’m glad British film produces mainstream crowd-pleasers, but I don’t want to make one’) has made an utterly distinctive and nigh on unclassifiable nightmare on the screen. The film is many layered giving the unsuspecting viewer a psycho-metaphysical implosion of anxieties, with traces of black comedy and sly winks to movie-buffs. Berberian Sound Studio is a wonderful film that twists ideas of consciousness and identity but is also seriously weird and seriously frightening.