Monday, December 16, 2013

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Starring: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancino

Writer & Director: Peter Strickland

Synopsis (IFC):
Mild-mannered sound engineer Gilderoy arrives in Rome to work on the soundtrack to a film called The Equestrian Vortex, a tale of witchcraft and murder set inside an all-girl riding academy. Before long he becomes entranced by the film's mysteriously terrifying allure, and the lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur. Now Gilderoy's own mind has become the battleground between his horrifying delusions and his desperate grasp on the real world.

The story for Berberian Sound Studio may be considered paper thin or just really basic. It's the visual style, music, and sound effects that make it so damn intriguing. That, and a handful of great performances – a couple of which are straight up terrifying. The lead, Gilderoy, is more or less a pushover, working totally out of his element within a genre he knows nothing about. Moreover, he's working side-by-side with the film's producer, Francesco, who is quite a prick. Aside from these negatives, watching Gilderoy – a master of his craft – record, edit, and perform the sound effects for The Equestrian Vortex is nothing short of mesmerizing. But it's on a completely different level once he begins losing grip, caused by the scenes being show before him.

We never see the terror of The Equestrian Vortex. Yet, Berberian Sound Studio manages to be terrifying in itself. No, it's not a horror film. And no, we aren't watching actors/actresses being brutally murdered beyond the lens of a camera; we're seeing radishes get ripped apart, frying pans sizzle, lettuce getting stabbed, and fucking watermelons being smashed into oblivion. This is some of what's used for murderous sound effects. I'd wager that the thought of fruits and vegetables meeting a grizzly demise on camera doesn't sound creepy at all. Well, it is, for one reason or another. And even when it isn't, it's still an entertaining and eye gluing experience.

The film strongly succeeds off of its visual and audible presentation. Some shots go from crystal clear perfection to a blur, as if you're watching from eyes drowning in tears. The scenes of Gilderoy working the soundboard, matched with a performer shrieking the fear of a thousand souls from a confined recording booth is mind blowing. These instances are hands down frightening at times, due to character close-ups and execution from the actors/actresses. It's like watching someone hit insane levels of speaking in tongues. Eyes go bloodshot, hands are clenching, and heads are shaking as if they're being exorcised. You won't want to blink.

Toby Jones as the lead, Gilderoy, is fantastic. The character is like a timid puppy of sorts. Even when we see a different side of him later in the film, he's still quite subdued. Cosimo Fusco as Francesco the producer is a great counterpart to Gilderoy's character, too. The man is all about getting the job done, and he's not very caring about his employees. Antonio Mancino plays Santini, the director of The Equestrian Vortex. Kind of a rock star type person. Shows up here and there, happy go lucky at face value, but something's off. Do not make the mistake of calling his film “Horror”. Fatma Mohamed plays Silvia, who voices a character for the Giallo. Silvia is my favorite next to Gilderoy, and Toby Jones and Mohamed have some great moments together.

Broadcast's soundtrack for Berberian Sound Studio is an Italian horror fan's wet dream. Once you get to the scene where Toby sits down and has his first experience with The Equestrian Vortex, I'd be surprised if that's not your selling point for the movie. It's so incredibly coherent to the genre.

Final Words:
If more style than substance isn't typically your thing, you may find disappointment in Berberian Sound Studio. But on a visual level, I doubt it. The film looks and sounds glorious, and the acting is ace. Available now on DVD from IFC, as well as Netflix Instant.

- Eric (Brobocop)