Tuesday, October 23, 2018

31 Days of Dread--Day 23

Berberian Sound Studio; 2012; written and directed by Peter Strickland

I once had a friend who worked in the film industry and passed along this surprising bit of advice: "In film the image quality matters, but the sound quality matters even more."

Berberian Sound Studio makes that same point in a most unsettling and entertaining way. It's a horror film about a horror film, in which the sound of what's happening on screen takes precedence over the sight. Though bodies are tortured and splattered and ripped apart and all other manners of mayhem occur, we only ever hear it, often in the most stomach-churning detail.

Toby Jones plays a British sound editor named Gilderoy, whose well-received documentary on birds has led to a job on an Italian film he believes is about horses. And it is, nominally speaking. Because The Equestrian Vortex is a 1970s giallo flick about witchcraft at an all-girls' riding school--something akin to Suspiria set in the stables.

The clash between Gilderoy's gentle nature, the seedy oddballs completing the film's post-production, and the blood-soaked style of The Equestrian Vortex puts the mild-mannered sound editor at odds with everyone and everything around him. As the scenes he's working on become ever more gruesome, his sense of reality begins first to stretch, and then to tear itself to shreds.

Along the way viewers are treated to some truly astounding set pieces that celebrate the artists who work behind the scenes in order to make those scenes so successful. There's one in particular, in which an actress gives voice to a witch rising from her grave, that will have you wondering whether to laugh or scream, or do both at the same time--a feat which the actress accomplishes quite well. 

However, if you're looking (or hoping) for giallo-style gore--which Berberian pays loving tribute to--you're likely to be disappointed. One of the film's great achievements (no doubt the result of budgetary constraints) is that you never see a single drop of blood. Unless, of course, you've got a very vivid imagination.

Berberian Sound Studio is available on Hulu and streaming rental.

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