Gilderoy (Toby Jones), an introverted British sound technician heads to Italy to work for an Italian director, Santini’s (Antonio Mancino) violent horror movie. Out of his comfort zone, he is left face to face with brutal scenes from the movie, naturally this begins to take a toll on him. More and more frustrated, unhappy and isolated, Gilderoy’s mind starts to dissipate.
This is directed Peter Strickland second feature length movie after 2009’s intense but brilliant Katalin Varga. Set in 70’s, lovingly crafted, Berberian Sound Studio is a brilliant homage to Giallo style films of the era. Uncovering the years of analog sound editing before digital invasion took over.
Inspired by many but particularly Italian director Dario Argento, some of the script touches religious aspects, particularly the hypocrisy behind priests and filmmakers both torturing women for their own agenda. Violence in the horror movie itself kept out of sight. Strickland prefers not to sensationalise but let audience decide on the matter. There are lots of extreme close ups on character’s faces and narrow framing which helps to create a tense claustrophobia and constant anxiousness, while other intense scenes accompanied by only eerie quietness.
According to Strickland, studio in the film is loosely based on Italian composer, Luciano Berio’s own studio. “Berberian” name also an explicit reference based on – once wife of Berio – American Soprano Cathy Berberian. Another interesting reference connects, Italian composer Bruno Maderna, (studio partner of Berio) to some of the dubbing charts in the movie marked as poultry. Bruno Maderna composed the original music in 1968’s Death Laid an Egg (La Morte Ha Fatto I’uovo).
There is one deliberately quite section in the movie to break out its own loop. The odd section refers to Gilderoy’s home town and his love of documentaries, throughout the movie there are subtle clues scattered leading up to it. Berberian Sound Studio shares a rare, delightful insight into film-making, but more importantly emphasising the power of soundtrack through altering our senses in this intense, intelligent, psychological thriller.
This film is a strange and beautiful homage to 70s Euro-horror. Perfectly paced, with the most intense, startling and frankly frightening sound design, this is a Lynchian trip to a very strange place. Toby Jones is perfect in the lead role, supported by a solid cast – but the real stars here are the inspired direction and brilliant sound. Enjoyed a this film a great deal. Although, a note for horror fans: No blood and guts here; this is a film about horror films, with Lynchian sensibilities.
The cast stuck around with director Peter Strickland for a Q&A. Photos from Lord Woolamaloo