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Berberian Sound Studio
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Now You Hear Me"
5 stars

If you ever sat through an especially nasty horror film and speculated idly about the mental health of those responsible for it, the British mind-bender "Berberian Sound Studio" may be of interest to you. On the other hand, if you are just simply looking for a decent horror film--a genre that has been on the decline as of late--it may be of interest as well because it is one of the best examples of the genre to come along in a while and what it may lack in gore, it more than makes up for in the ability to freak viewers out.

Set in the Seventies, the film opens as British sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) arrives in Italy to work his magic on a film bearing the seemingly innocuous title "The Equestrian Variations" and is quickly surprised to discover that what sounds like the kind of kid-oriented project that he is used to working on is actually a super-violent Italian giallo horror film of the sort made famous by the likes of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Already alienated by being a stranger in a strange land and surrounded by people who seem to be going out of their way to make things awkward from him (from constantly speaking in Italian, which he does not understand, to screwing around with him when he tries to get reimbursed for his travel expenses), Gilderoy tries to dig in and do his job but after a while, chopping and squishing vegetables in order to aurally recreate the grisly horrors he is forced to bear witness to begins to play with his mind. Is his distaste for the material he is working on driving him around the bend or is there the possibility that he has been lured into the project for a more diabolical reason.

Written and directed by Peter Strickland, "Berberian Sound Studio" is an ingenious little thriller that also serves as a twisted love letter to giallo filmmaking that is filled with an amusing array of in-jokes and nods to fans of the subgenre ranging from the title of the film-within-a-film (many giallos had titles that invoked animals or birds for some reason) the the numerous close-ups of black-gloved hands hitting the various switches in the studio. In a really brilliant move, we hear descriptions of the atrocities contained within "The Equestrian Variations" (conveyed in a hilariously deadpan manner) as well as the grisly sounds being created to better sell them to audiences but we never actually seen the gruesome material for ourselves, a move that forces viewers to imagine them for themselves and therefore put themselves further into Gilderoy's increasingly fragile state of mind. Beyond the homages, Strickland also creates a legitimately tension-filled atmosphere throughout and gets a strong performance from Jones that perfectly conveys his character's growing sense of paranoia as he becomes increasingly alienated from the film, his co-workers and his own sense of stability.

Moviegoers who have grown used to horror films being little more than a series of rote shocks designed to jolt audiences awake whenever their attention seems to be waning (which is often) may grow a little restless with "Berberian Sound Studio" and its lack of overt gore or "BOO" moments while others may grow a bit frustrated with the deliberately oblique conclusion that is closer in tone to the warped weirdness of the finales of "The Shining" and "Mullholland Drive" than the standard genre fare. That said, this is an uncommonly fascinating take on the horror film that is well worth seeking out, especially for those who are already fans of [i]giallo[/i]. If nothing else, if you have been long seeking out the perfect film to serve as the second half of a potential double-feature with Brian De Palma's masterpiece "Blow Out"--another drama about a movie sound man on the edge--your search is now officially over.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24203&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/13/13 12:28:21
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2012 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2012 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 European Union Film Festival For more in the 16th Annual European Union Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Independent Film Festival Boston For more in the 2013 Independent Film Festival Boston series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Stanley Film Festival For more in the 2013 Stanley Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/23/16 Langano Pure garbage. One of the worst movies ever made. Comparing this crap to Lynch is a joke. 1 stars
6/12/15 Loop Has its moments... 3 stars
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  14-Jun-2013 (NR)
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