People often say Bill Hicks was a comedians comedian who was not fully appreciated by the mainstream, but, for lovers of the craft and those with a passion for the medium, he was untouchable. Peter Strickland the writer/director of Berberian Sound Studio may just have created a film lovers film.
Toby Jones plays Gilderoy, an English sound engineer who arrives in Italy to work on a film and unbeknownst to him, it’s a horror. More accustomed to doing the sound for children’s television, he is unsure whether he’s the man for the job. He doesn’t have an option as the pushy Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) emotionally blackmails him into staying on and completing the picture. The film Gilderoy is working on would appear to be loosely based on the Spanish Inquistion with graphic depictions of torture and abuse it makes for a pretty grim exploitative film. Oh, and one tiny detail – you don’t see any of the film that they are doing the sound for, not one scene.
In a way you might think it’s like going to see Titanic and not seeing any of the boat. This isn’t quite fair and may very well be a stroke of genius on the part of Strickland. Not the most original of ideas especially in the horror genre, films have been making use of letting your mind’s eye do the scaring for quite some time, but the fact that you don’t see one frame of the horror movie is pretty bold. Strickland makes clever use of sound effects and a narration before each scene that Gilderoy is looking at to allow our imaginations run wild. Never has rotten fruit and vegtables seemed so menancing. One thing I may be giving too much notice to is the helpers in the sound studio, two of the lackees look like Christopher Lee circa the 70s and an middle age Stanley Kubrick.
The biggest nod for me was towards David Lynch, especially in the last act when the film turns in on itself. Most people either love or hate Lynch and while I’m a big fan I see why people might have misgivings. Be warned, if you like stuff wrapped up nice and neat or even understanding an ending then you should probably avoid Berberian Sound Studio. Pay close attention as scenes are often shown twice with alterations and at times art imitates life. A second watching, if not more is probably needed to fully grasp what is unfolding before our eyes.
The supporting cast are all great notably Francesco (Cosimo Fucso) who makes you hate him from the moment he appears on screen. His role is to make you sympathise with Gilderoy, while also providing most of the menace at the same time. The film belongs to Toby Jones and it really is a masterclass in acting. Comedic, despondent, terrified, remorseful, bemused and melancholy, there isn’t an emotion that Jones can’t conjure up at the the click of his fingers. Ever since he came to some prominence with Infamous, Jones has been showing he’s a masterful character actor and hopefully more leading roles will find their way to him. A small side note on the opening credits – they’re amazing and will surely win our made-up Spooool award for opening titles come awards season.
Honestly, I know the majority of people won’t dig this film, passing it off as slow and tedious. This is one way of looking at it, or you can view it as a masterclass in ambiance and suspense. Not to be be missed for fans of the genre.
UK / Directed By: Peter Strickland / Written By: Peter Strickland / Starring: Toby Jones, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Susanna Cappellaro / 92min / Horror / Release: 31 August 2012 (UK/Ireland)