Berberian Sound Studio (15)
Toby Jones is the fish out of water in this intriguing entry into the annals of the quasi Italian giallo, playing a diffident Brit hired to work as sound editor on a horror film.
He’s a little man, lacking the swagger of his continental colleagues. And just as he’s out of place in their world, so he struggles to comprehend the type of film he is dealing with.
It’s a melange of blood, violence, ear-splitting screams and gory effects. Writer/director Peter (Katalin Varga) Strickland keeps it all within the mind’s eye by never actually showing the film that Gilderoy (Jones) is working on other than its opening credits.
Instead he presents reaction from the point of view of the equally appalled and unsettled sound man. This, after all, is not his normal sort of job. And as the Lynchian mood becomes ever more prevalent, so Gilderoy’s mind starts to unravel.
Strickland hints heavily at the sort of film being made by chaotic director Santini (Antonio Mancino) and driven producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco). Think Dario Argento’s Suspiria with its students, witches and gruesome dispatching of central characters.
Thus in a darkened studio Gilderoy’s pain-staking work involves him snapping vegetables to double for the sound of hair being viciously yanked out. Or cleaving watermelons in two. You can guess the rest.
A horror film within a horror film within a horror film – or, as Santini points out “This is not a horror film. It is about the human condition” – Berberian Sound Studio is a creepily effective chiller. It has the confidence to mess with the psyche and to insert normality into surreality, thus giving it an added twist.
What’s more, being set in the 1970s it harks back to a time when Italy was leading the world in stylised, misogynistic passion plays that were unapologetically bathed in blood.
Part funded by Screen Yorkshire and co-produced by Sheffield-based Warp X, Berberian Sound Studio is an unusual picture that looks to the future whilst referencing (and reverencing) the past. It eschews overt gore and brutality in favour of the power of the imagination. And in doing so it emerges as a bold triumph.