From its sinister start to its chaotic climax Berberian Sound Studio drags you into its claustrophobic and dread filled world and doesn’t let go till the titles roll, making it one of the most powerful and evocative movies of the year.
Written and directed by Peter Strickland the story follows meek sound engineer Gilderoy, played pitch perfectly by the brilliant Toby Jones. He has been requested to fly out to Italy to work on the sound for a forthcoming horror film.
Unaware of the subject matter or the disturbing content of the movie until he starts working on it, Gilderoy is alienated not only by a culture clash that he finds in his home away from home, but by the movie itself which he finds increasingly unsettling.
As he becomes further immersed in both his work and the dramatic lives of the actors and production people making the film the sense that something else strange, dark and unnerving is happening to him. It’s beyond his control and beyond his imagination and soon the condition continues to rise until he is forced to confront his own fears inside and out.
Set in the 70’s, Strickland’s film is an homage to both the Giallo genre as a whole (represented by the film that Gilderoy is working on – The Equestrian Vortex – which we cleverly never see, except its amazing titles), and Strickland’s own love of the sound equipment which is fetishised and filmed in fantastic close ups throughout.
A film about film, Berberian Sound Studio exposes the techniques behind the horror, providing many creepy and hilariously incongruous scenes where Gilderoy tears apart various vegetables to create the noise of the sadistic torture and mutilations that make up the movie.
Although an obvious comparison is the sublime Peeping Tom in theme and visual flair, Berberian Sound Studio is no pale pastiche and Strickland’s amazing ability to create such a palpable feeling of fear without really showing anything overtly scary is impressive.
It’s brilliantly shot with a use of sound rarely found in films – that rather than accompanying the visuals, stimulate your own imagination by depriving you of what the characters are actually seeing, which in turn creates much more intense and frightening scenes.
Although containing plenty of powerhouse performances from the mainly Italian cast, Berberian Sound Studio is less about story and narrative and more about mood. This may turn some audience members off who’ve arrived expecting a standard, simple, spooky horror.
For those that are willing to give in and commit to the visual, aural and psychological trip through Berberian Sound Studio there is plenty to stimulate and scare. It’s a film that will stay with you long after its over, making the movie not only one of the most intelligent and innovative horrors in recent years but one of the best films of the year so far.