Director, Peter Strickland (Katalin Varga) presents us with the truly unsettling look at the power of sound in his latest feature, the Toby Jones lead, Berberian Sound Studio – which makes its world premiere at this years’ Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Set in the 1970s, Berberian Sound Studio follows British sound technician, Gilderoy, as he works in Italy on a gruesome horror film. Soon Gilderoy’s work on this dark feature slowly begins to bleed into his everyday life.
Berberian Sound Studio is certainly not a horror film, instead more of a psychological thriller reminiscent of Hammer Films “Mini-Hitchcocks”. This completely absorbing and brooding drama manages to be unsettling, rather than scary. Strickland’s direction immediately emphasises a sense of foreboding, with the distinctive use of the sounds created in the studio capturing Gilderoy’s troubling mental state.
The vibrant and unsettling power of the sound is so strong, that we never see any of the imagery linked to this gruesome horror film (apart from its blood red opening titles) it is simply talked about, yet seeing these sounds created still has a sinister impact. Who knew hacking a watermelon or smashing some courgettes on ground could have such a chilling impact.
Berberian Sound Studio is at its best when capturing the changing mental state of Gilderoy – most notably one frantic, dream-like sequence where the technician’s life blurs with the Italian horror film as he believes there is an intruder in his apartment. Jones performance is terrifically understated, managing to capture both his initial coyness to his more extreme infuriation whilst working on the project. For an actor, that is traditionally cast in supporting roles, Jones proves to be equally impressive in a leading role.
Unfortunately, a utterly confusing and unnecessary twist ending spoils the foreboding and impact so carefully established throughout Berberian Sound Studio. This extreme twist is not given the build-up that it deserves only working as a method of shocking the viewer, but lacking any clear explanation or clarity. It marks a disappointing end to an otherwise well-crafted piece of cinema.
For the most part, Berberian Sound Studio is a unsettling, brooding psychological horror, boasting a magnificent turn from Toby Jones. The well-crafted narrative and powerful sound use are unfortunately spoilt by an over-ambitious twist ending.