Director: Peter Strickland
Cast: Toby Jones, , Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancino, Tonia Sotiropoulou
Running Time: 92 mins
The lowdown: Peter Strickland follows cult festival hit Katalin Varga with this dark love letter to the Italian horror films of the 60s and 70s. Toby Jones is Gilderoy, a meek, renowned sound engineer invited to Rome to work on a violent witchcraft movie. But, as culture shock and homesickness take hold, the power of the images the English gent must endure take their toll. Superior, thinking person’s fantasy cinema, imagine Peeping Tom directed by Roman Polanski.
The full verdict: First up: Berberian Sound Studio is a five star film.
Second: Like the brilliant Belgian horror Amer, Berberian Sound Studio requires a decent working knowledge of Italian horror cinema to appreciate its black humour, chills, expertly recreated details, and emotional impact.
So, if the names of Italian directors Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci are all Greek to you, we recommend checking out Suspiria, Mask of Satan and Don’t Torture A Duckling (greats all) for a flavour of Strickland’s inspirations.
A film of claustrophobia and paranoia this is a feast for the eyes and, as importantly, the ears and is likely to be unlike anything else you’ll see this year.
Unlike other movies about sound recording (Blow-Out, The Conversation), there is no conspiracy to solve here. But, a mystery does emerge, centered on the diminutive, sad-faced Toby Jones, whose buttoned-down performance again proves him one of the finest British actors working today.
Comfortable only around his recording equipment, Gilderoy is a man lost in the vaguely threatening world of European low budget film production. Belittled by a receptionist (Skyfall Bond girl Sotiropoulou) who won’t reimburse his flight costs, harangued by a domineering producer (Fusco) and a megalomaniacal director (Mancino) irate at the suggestion this is a mere “horror film”, Gilderoy pines for the tranquility of the South Downs and seeks solace in letters from home.
Spot-on recreation of the opening credits aside, Strickland keeps “The Equestrian Vortex” (again referencing an Italian 70s trend for animal-based titles) offscreen. The violence is meted out to various fruit and veg to provide the requisite splat and thud of knifings and bludgeoning, and Jones appalled expressions fill in the gaps.
Elsewhere, the aggressive soundtracks from those vintage horror movies, all eerie sighs, bizarre incantations and avant garde rock are expertly created to transform the recording studio into the most terrifying place on earth.
A third act shift into David Lynch territory blurs the line between and the sound of reality and fantasy and will likely leave some scratched heads. Is the film a study in psychosis, a wry commentary on the adverse effects of too many horror movies or merely a culture clash black comedy taken to surreal heights?
Clues are given, but only repeated viewings provide answers. Which sounds like bold, brave and visionary filmmaking to us.
Review originally published on skymovies.com