Odds are that unless you have something to do with the industry itself, you’ve never really considered how much work goes into the tiniest of details of a film, and the psychological toll such painstaking work can take. Peter Strickland’s 2012 “Berberian Sound Studio” is centred around the craft of film making, specifically the meticulous artistry of sound effects, and reveals what happens when a man devotes all too much of his heart and soul to producing some of the most disturbing images ever caught on camera.
“Berberian Sound Studio” is psychological horror. It explores the slow burn of mild mannered British Gilderoy (Toby Jones), a renowned foley master in the 1970s world of pre-digital film manufacturing. Gilderoy has been recruited by an Italian studio to put his talents towards a seemingly innocuous equestrian drama. All too late, he discovers that he has been wrangled into working for a violent, misogynistic murder-mystery flick which takes place in a stable. Too timid and broke to back out and fly home, Gilderoy resigns himself to getting the project over with. That is easier said than done as the increasingly perturbing imagery disrupts the gentle Gilderoy’s conscience and begins to play sinister tricks on his mind.
“This is not a horror film!”
The movie raises a lot of questions about how films are made and viewed. As Gilderoy becomes more conflicted over his assignment’s violent content, an interesting contrast emerges between him and the rest of the crew. This disparity creates much of the film’s tension rather than the standard stock of gruesome imagery one can expect to find in most horror movies. Instead, the horrible acts for which Gilderoy must meticulously screen and analyze are revealed to audiences through the character’s descriptions and reactions, most of which are eerily blase. Perhaps one of the most unsettling moments occurs when a group of sound technicians casually create an effect for a rape scene. As he succumbs to his co-workers’ pressures to ignore the sheer offensiveness of the movie, Toby Jones’ portrayal of Gilderoy’s gradual descent into despair is utterly heart-wrenching to behold, and guaranteed to haunt you even after the reels stop turning.
“It’s just a film. You’re part of it.”
The film intelligently explores the theme of conformity. As an outsider, Gilderoy is exposed to the established ways of his Italian counterparts, who are depicted as bearing a far more aggressive countenance than him. The story uses the concept of film making and viewing as a metaphor for social behaviour. Gilderoy is berated for his natural abhorrence all the while encouraged to emit the film’s misogyny through pressure to evoke hostility towards women within the studio. The overall question “Berberian” left me with is highly reminiscent of the whole Plato-Aristotle debate on mimesis: although shots of Gilderoy’s foley art makes the artificiality of a movie apparent, at what point does such an authentic representation of the rape and murder prove harmful to individuals in society? I could delve deeper, but the point is that “Berberian Sound Studio” covers this ground in a fascinating and creepy way that I’ve never seen before.
“I just needed to scream, that’s all.”
For some horror fans, “Berberian Sound Studio” may be a bit less violent and a bit more cerebral than what they’d prefer. While very compelling, this isn’t a light-hearted romp by any means. For viewers looking for a blood-spattered fast-paced wild ride, I wouldn’t recommend it. But the good news is that those of you looking for a subtler, more manageable horror film are likely to enjoy all that “Berberian Sound Studio” has to offer.
Overall Rating: 8/10