might be the most anti-horror movie genre freak-out, perhaps ever. Do not tell the hapless sound engineer in
question he is just working on a movie or the violent images he sees are no big
deal. The vintage-era Italian giallo
will profoundly disturb the nebbish Brit throughout Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
Gilderoy assumed he had been hired to engineer the sort of nature documentary
that has been his specialty.
Unfortunately, The Equestrian
Vortex is anything but. This will be
the latest gore fest from the notorious giallo auteur, Santini (who does that
name remind you of?). The film opens
with a girl on a horse, but she will soon find herself in a bacchanal of
witchcraft and graphic, sexually charged violence. Gilderoy is not prepared for this material,
but nobody refuses Santini.
from the start, Santini and the staff of the grimy 1970’s sound studio torment
Gilderoy with mind games. The engineer’s
mental and emotional health quickly deteriorates as he records the smashing
pumpkins and other foley effects that accompany the on-screen tortures. On the plus side, there are elegant Mediterranean
bombshells coming in out of the studio to record their screams, but only Silvia,
the fading starlet, shows him any kindness.
Of course, she is no match for the notorious Santini, or his Mephistophelean
fresh produce sacrificed to make Berberian
could have made a month of salads for the Italian army, but it all has the
desired impact. In a more just world, Berberian should be an Oscar shoe-in for
the sound categories. However, the Academy
will probably be far too uncomfortable with the film’s premise and
Berberian is unusually forthright
questioning the cumulative impact of desensitizing imagery, far surpassing
Cronenberg’s somewhat thematically related Videodrome. Shrewdly, Strickland never shows the audience
the Equestrian horrors slowly boring
their way into Gilderoy’s brain. It is
far more unsettling to hear them take shape in the studio and to watch the
engineer’s pained responses. This is an
artfully creepy film that skillfully builds the claustrophobic tension, up
until the third act collapses into surreal reality-problematizing bedlam.
knew Toby Jones had this in him? As
Gilderoy, he quietly but rather spectacularly portrays a shy, reserved man
coming apart at the seams, in a marked departure from his supercilious
type-casting. As his polar opposite,
Cosimo Fusco’s Francesco is malevolent sleazebag worthy of the giallo
the real stars of Berberian are the technical
crew who so perfectly recreate the look, sound, and general vibe of the
genre. Listening to Broadcast’s original
score, one could easily believe it came off a rare vinyl soundtrack (that’s a
good thing). Similarly, production designer Jennifer Kernke’s team painstaking
attention to period detail makes the analog studio feel like a truly real (and
really awful) place to work.
This is a superior midnight-genre film that
might just challenge regular midnight-genre patrons. Oddly enough, it also happens to be one of
the year’s best period productions.
Highly recommended for open-minded cult movie fans, Berberian Sound Studio opens this Friday (6/14) at the IFC Center.
Labels: British Cinema, Giallo films, Toby Jones