By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Any comprehensive fan of horror should have a special place in their hearts for Italy’s contributions in the 1960s and 70s. Directors like Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Mario and Lamberto Bava brought some of the most inventive, goriest horror films ever to life, influencing practically every horror director to come after them.
Plus, Juno really thought they were cool
Berberian Sound Studio is a love letter to those films, in the most unexpected of ways. Toby Jones plays a mild-mannered British sound effects artist who agrees to work on a giallo horror film because he thought it was an arthouse production. Once in Italy, he must contend with diffident locals, an asshole of a director (Cosimo Fusco), the likelihood they’ll never reimburse his ticket, and his own creeping madness.
A description like that might lead you to believe we have a slasher flick on our hands, but the agenda here is much more subtle than that. Besides never getting any real-life bloodshed, we don’t even get to see the horror film being worked on, and instead only hear it, watching how its various stomach-churning sounds are produced.
The answer, lots of chopped vegetables
Director Peter Strickland puts a lot of other horror conventions on display here, from the stand-offish, alienating locals to the creepy, over-intense antagonist/director to the way the studio is lit. All gloomy shadows and the wet thunk of a butcher’s knife cleaving through flesh, it doesn’t matter if it’s a voice-over artist or ill-fated watermelon at work. Your sense of fear doesn’t know the difference.
I also have to applaud the performance of Oscar winner Toby Jones.
Regardless of how often he’s been the bridesmaid and not the bride (he also played Hitchcock last year, but chances are you don’t remember Anthony Hopkins’s performance either), he remains one of the most consistently excellent actors out there. Here he shows his range all the way from the meek, polite momma’s boy that befits his unique look to a man coming apart at the scenes, and perhaps just on the verge of a killing spree of his own.
Unfortunately, nothing so exciting ever happens plot-wise. In fact, nothing much at all does. This is predominantly an exercise in atmosphere, and succeeds wildly there, but damn, it would have been nice if they threw in a story, too.
At the end, just imagine Jones is thinking “Fuck Yoouuuu” as the camera pulls back. There’s your catharsis.
Strickland makes the interesting decision to leave the film’s copious amounts of Italian dialogue unsubtitled, and I see what he’s going for in trying to make the viewer share in Jones’s sense of isolation. But by the time even Toby starts speaking the language, I think it’s fair to let your mind wander to anything even remotely more engaging, like your beer, or boobies.
Both is fine.
This Inside Baseball look at foley artists and giallo horror cum actual frightfest is one of the strangest, and most unique films of the year, even if it never really goes anywhere.
Take a Drink: every time someone makes a bizarre sound with their mouth (Italian not included)
Take a Drink: every time a fruit or vegetable gets it right in the kisser
Take a Drink: ewww… rotten fruit
Take a Drink: whenever the sounds make you start questioning your own sanity
Do a Shot: whenever poor Toby gets shot down on his ticket reimbursement