Berberian Sound Studio (NR)

Horror 92 June 14, 2013
By Michael Atkinson
A bewitching helix of pure movie stuff, Peter Strickland's seething and self-conscious whatsit Berberian Sound Studio may scan as a psychological thriller, but it's really a lavish gift to film geeks in a lovely matryoshka box. We haven't been here before: the Italian film industry circa 1976, in that post-dubbing-craze industry’s seediest foley studio, and once we're in there's no getting out. It's an irresistible dynamic: being trapped in a Kafkaesque netherworld of genre film post-production, where "reality" is an ungraspable quantity, but what's "happening" in the film under construction is overwhelmingly vital. Gilderoy (Toby Jones), a shy British sound engineer, is imported to fabricate the soundtrack for what seems to be an absurdly gory Dario Argento-ish giallo. Seems to be, because we never see the film in question, but only hear it, as a thousand cabbages and melons are decimated with knives and sledgehammers, and as the brittle Gilderoy finds himself lost in whimsical Italian bureaucracy and appalled by the bloody mayhem on the screen. Naturally, Strickland's film is infected with the menace emanating from the film within the film. Again and again, the aural horror becomes the sly soundtrack of Berberian, and vice-versa. Giallo-ness is everywhere; Gilderoy is even haunted by a daddy-longlegs. Although the experience is filthy with satiric details (Italian moviemakers take it in the knees), almost nothing happens in Strickland's film-- it's almost completely rampaging atmosphere, which assaults Jones's shaky artisan even as he manufactures it. The screaming, bloodletting business of the giallo is "nothing," too, just sounds and images, no matter how much the pretentious director, once he shows up, blathers on about his film's "truth."
Peter Strickland Toby JOnes, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Susanna Cappellaro, Cosimo Fusco, Layla Amir, Eugenia Caruso, Lara Parmiani, Antonio Mancino, Chiara D'Anna Peter Strickland IFC Films