Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
Paying homage to Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” (1977), this 92 minute tale from English writer-director Peter Strickland casts Toby Jones as a mild-mannered sound engineer (Gilderoy) recruited to fly over to piece together all the sound elements of a graphic horror movie in an Italian sound studio.
We only ever see the opening titles for this movie within a movie (entitled: “The Equestrian Girl”) but they are worth the admission price alone. The 70s style music combined with the dizzying Dante’s “Inferno” of images – doused in blood red – bombard you and suggest the terror to come.
This terror is only hinted at, offscreen, filtered through Gilderoy’s eyes as he encounters frustrations and confrontations one after another and struggles with personalities much more assertive than his own. Gilderoy’s task becomes all the more stark as he recalls the letters from home about the chiff-chaffs nesting in his garden and the cosy nature films he has mixed in the past.
Toby Jones plays the repressed English gent with all the assuredness we’ve come to expect, suggesting the mass of conflicting emotions Gilderoy is undergoing. If there is a criticism it is that the role of Gilderoy as a character is too slight to sustain a film – he is almost a cypher. Of the rest of the cast, particular praise should go to Cosimo Fusco who plays the film’s exacting producer Francesco with a virtuoso performance of grumpy dickiskness. That he also played Rachel’s ‘Italian Stallion” Paolo in the heyday of the US sitcom “Friends” only goes to boggle the mind even further. Tonia Sotiropoulou is also good in her small, but exquisitely disdainful, role as the secretary with attitude, Elena.
The first half of this film is masterful 5 star stuff: visually stunning, an intriguing plot, broad 3-dimensional characters. The second half is where the wheels come off. The repetition of shots focusing on the mixing desk dials, the rotting vegetables Gilderoy uses to compose his various sound effects, the screams of the various actors and actresses used as he records them and re-records them and so on suddenly turns a 92 minute film into a 3 hour odyssey for the viewer.
I understand why Strickland has done this, of course. We are brought into Gilderoy’s growing obsession and paranoia as he stumbles from day-to-day in the claustrophobic hell of the sound studio. Ultimately, it leaves the viewer grasping for something else themselves – a plot device which will take us out of the studio for instance and make for a more satisfying conclusion perhaps.
IN SHORT – MUST SEE FOR THE FIRST HALF, MEANDERS TO A FLAWED CONCLUSION THEREAFTER.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Could have been more.