Once I lost my faith in horror films. Nothing they could do to reinvent horror films, I once thought, so this genre might be just full with remakes and old formulas. "Berberian Sound Studio" breaks that assumption. I'm not saying that this film is really that great, but I'm just so surprised by how different this film delivers horror to the viewers. Call me exaggerating, but my call is "Berberian Sound Studio" never tries to scare the viewers; instead it puzzles them and leaves them in mild confusion—which is worth the same to being scared that any mainstream horrors even fail to do.
So there is this shy, middle-aged, British man called Gilderoy (Toby Jones) moving from UK to Italy, to work as a sound effect supervisor for a horror film in a studio called Berberian Sound Studio. He can't speak Italian, he really needs his flight bill reimbursed soon by the studio, he had no experience handling sound effects for horror films, and the studio staffs are not so friendly to him. The producer, Francesco (Cosimo Fusco), along with the weird director who refuses to address the film they are working on as a horror film, Santini (Antonio Mancino), never make him understand his new job. He thinks he can't manage to continue working, before he finally realizes that the boundary between reality and illusion blurs out, and he's trapped in the middle of them.
|Toby Jones playing Gilderoy, a British shy man working as a sound supervisor at Berberian Sound Studio, Italy|
They are working on "The Equestrian Vortex", something like a gore, B-class movie about sorcery and dark powers. We never see what movie it is; all we can see is the opening credit of the movie, presented in red and black tint, which replaces the real opening credit of "Berberian Sound Studio". We only know that there are sound effects they are working on, like blood splatters, head smashing, body stabbing, and—of course—women screaming in severe pain, and we also know how they produce those sounds. They smash watermelons to imitate head smashing, they boil waters on pans to imitate skin burning, and many other disgusting things done to imitate some other more disgusting and painful acts in the films they are working on. We also have several great voice performers, mostly women, who scream on the top of their voices to imitate real scare. Again, we never see what movie it is—we can only hear the terrifying voices they all make.
This makes "Berberian Sound Studio" more like a sensory (especially auditory) experience. We don't see ghosts, gore, blood, killers, psychopaths, shocking scenes, or other things that mainstream horror films usually use to deliver fear—we mostly hear them. It is our imagination that constructs how awful "The Equestrian Vortex" is. And, instead of showing us the film they made, director Peter Strickland shows us bizzare images and montages that put us in a peculiar mood. This is surely a different treatment that a horror film could give, and from this point you might want to just remove the "horror" label from this film. But the treatment is effective, because it gives a more significant effect to us—just like how working on the horror sound studio significantly affects Gilderoy's mental condition. It leaves us confusion, it jumbles out our mind, while the grotesque and horrifying sound effects are playing nearly continuously throughout the film. Some of us might simply depicts how awful the job he does, but we are certainly clear that there is a bigger mystery behind all the stuffs that he did inside that old-school, traditional, tiny sound studio.
|Cosimo Fusco (center) playing Francesco, an unfriendly producer of "The Equestrian Vortex"|
We never see anything outside the studio and Gilderoy's house. We never see sunlight. We can only see how terribly the sound performers produce the disturbing sound effects inside the recording room, with their eyes wide opened and mouth shaped in such an awkward shape. Sound mixing and effects are of course two components in "Berberian Sound Studio" that deserve biggest appreciation for both the complicated, intertwined sounds and the eerie atmosphere that the sounds bring us. But cinematography is also a key to describe the situation, especially the characterization of Gilderoy. The way he walks in the corridor all by himself, with the echoing sounds from his shoes, is so straight to portray how he emotionally troubled the longer he is involved in this job. The sign "Silenzio" (or "Silent") outside the recording room, flashing in red while the screen is tinted in whimsical pure black might be a credit to David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive", and many other shots deliver other awkwardness, perhaps also vagueness, as an alternative to direct blatant scenes that used to scare us.
Toby Jones is astonishing. Here in "Berberian Sound Studio", he always be the spotlight. As a foreigner who knows nothing about both the new language and the new job, he must be crazy to accept such a psychologically damaging routine in an apparently stressful working team like this. Toby Jones delivers the puzzle that the film is supposed to give us, and with the help of sound effects and camera works, he is more than able to display ambiguity within shyness in his mimics and lines. The rest of the cast are all Italian, and Cosimo Fusco, playing the unfriendly, bossy producer, can balance Jones' acting in most of the scenes. I don't really get Fatma Mohamed's portrayal as Silvia, one of the voice performers, perhaps because her climaxing characterization is too sudden, and it's a bit regretful that she becomes an important key to a big scene near the ending (along with Antonio Mancino as the director, who seems like a half-heartedly built character, despite of his heavily accented English).
|Toby Jones is astonishing in bringing psychological thrill with his character|
You might not like "Berberian Sound Studio". This is not where you can find shocking scenes or blood party. But if you want something different, you might try this one. This is a full-sensory horror experience that treats your eyes and ears and scrambles your brain at the same time. For me, nothing is more terrifying than being completely lost in your own mind, and because of that, "Berberian Sound Studio" deserves to preserve the "horror" label it comes up with at the first place.
▲ Different horror material and presentation, great performance by Toby Jones, complicated sound mixing and powerful cinematography
▼ No real scare, non-mainstream horror that people might not like
BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO | COUNTRY UK YEAR 2012 RATING n.a. RUNTIME 92 min GENRE Drama, Horror, Thriller CAST Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancino, Fatma Mohamed, Tonia Sotiropoulou WRITER Peter Strickland DIRECTOR Peter Strickland MORE INFO