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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.05.12] United Kingdom horror



Few things are more disappointing than movies that have a great premise that is squandered away. It's not only disappointing, but it's even infuriating and that's the case with Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio which takes a perfectly fantastic sounding premise and delivers a movie that loses steam thirty minutes in.

Toby Jones stars as Gilderoy, a well respected sound engineer who is hired by an Italian director to finish the sound mix on his new horror movie. Gilderoy arrives with little knowledge of the project he's going to be working on and from the moment he sees the first bit of footage it's clear that he's very uncomfortable. But he's a professional and so he pushes on, working obsessively on the movie until one of the actresses gets angry at the director and destroys the most of the film.


Strickland uses some very effective techniques to build suspense, perhaps the best of the bunch is the fact that he refrains from showing footage of the horror movie and instead, we experience Gilderoy's discomfort only via audio. It's an effective tool, one that underlines the fact that the movie is a thriller about a sound engineer who goes crazy while editing the sound on a horror movie (there's some slick meta angle at work here) but the fact that we don't see any footage is eventually a distraction, especially when Berberian Sound Studio loses steam and the audience is grabbing for something, anything, to revive dwindling interest. A peek at the movie footage that is so damaging to Gilderoy may have been the answer but we never get to see it and we'll never know whether it would be enough to salvage this great idea that is stretched too far.

The movie's lack of pulse is particularly disappointing considering how well it opens. The first act of Berberian Sound Studio, which introduces the players, the location and the general eeriness which permeates through the late 1070s studio is effective and watching the process of sound design from a by-gone area has its perks but any charm quickly disappears replaced by long takes of women reading lines, the director and other techie types acting inappropriately in scene after scene to the point where even the recording of sounds loses its appeal. The few truly creepy moments come when Gilderoy begins to have waking nightmares and soon it's not clear if he's awake or if we're walking through one of his dreams.

The concept and execution of Berberian Sound Studio is interesting but there isn't enough substance to keep the movie afloat for ninety minutes. It certainly doesn't help that partway through the movie loses the tension that is beautifully captured in the opening scenes. The final hour is scene after boring scene of Gilderoy recording sound, playing lackey to the overpowering Francesco and occasionally suffering from hallucinations and a constant fade to "Silenzio" which was effective the first time but which quickly turned into just another irritating thing in a movie full of irritating things. Hopefully Strickland's next will be more Katalin Varga and less Berberian Sound Studio.

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