Berberian Sound Studio may not sound like the catchiest of titles, but then again sounds can be deceptive. It is one of the boldest, oddest and most unnerving love letters to cinema imaginable, guaranteed to leave you both dazzled and scratching your head, but ultimately rather awestruck by its audacity.
Toby Jones does an excellent job as Gilderoy, a subdued, dispassionate sound engineer from England arriving at a brown-filled 1970s studio in Italy to work on a film. Upon arrival, Gilderoy passively enquires about how he can go about getting his flight cost reimbursed, only to be treated with contempt by the secretary. Director Peter Strickland does a remarkable job of making everything just seem that little bit off. Gilderoy finds himself working on a sexually driven, pulp exploitation film called The Equestrian Vortex. “I thought you said something about equestrian?”, Gilderoy enquires following our only visual glimpse of the film as we hear spine tingling shrieks accompanying the title sequence. “It is. She’s just not horse-riding anymore”. The sound studio provides the film’s single, catastrophic location for its population to simulate the most atrocious audio recreations of human suffering and torment. Despite having never worked on a horror film before, Gilderoy gets on with his job, improvising ways of recreating hair ripping, strangulation and various forms of sadistic torture which feels simultaneously darkly comedic, but it’s spliced together to feel deeply unnerving.
We never see as much as a glimpse of the actual film the studio are working on, which only adds to the film’s sense of entrapment. Its creation of this perverted but professional environment is expertly cut and mixed together to provide an atmosphere of cinematic engulfment which wraps its fingers around its protagonist and audience with equal vigor. Although the final act fails to pay off as satisfyingly as the film deserves, it is a haunting, unclassifiable piece of postmodern cinema which is astounding to watch and its scremas stay with you long into the hours after it’s all over.
Review by David Rank
Berberian Sound Studio is out now in the UK. Certificate 15 (UK). Running time 92 mins.
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