Director: Peter Strickland
Cast: Toby Jones, Antonio Mancino, Tonia Sotiropoulou
Watch Berberian Sound Studio online in the UK: MUBI UK / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Curzon Home Cinema
Who knew that if you chop, skewer and pummel a watermelon, you end up with the noise of a horrific, messy murder? Peter Strickland obviously does. And his fascinating meta-horror, Berberian Sound Studio, is the perfect demonstration of exactly what audio can do to a person’s brain.
Toby Jones plays Gilderoy, one of the best sound guys of the 1970s. His hearing is so sharp that director Santini (Mancino) invites him over to Italy to mix the soundtrack for his film, The Equestrian Vortex. It has nothing to do with horses.
Gilderoy instead finds himself squishing tomatoes, pulling apart radishes and chucking carrots around, as Santini’s garish opus plays out in the background. Witches, virgins, monsters? You wouldn’t believe what this guy can do with a cabbage.
All the while, the Brit struggles to get someone to reimburse the receipt for his flight out. “I’ve never worked on a horror movie before,” mumbles the timid engineer. “This isn’t a horror movie, Gilderoy,” comes the greasy reply. “This… is a Santini film.”
The same can be said of Berberian Sound Studio. It’s not a horror movie at all – not in the traditional sense. But it’s full of fear. The titular studio, a cupboard of unseen scares, is a hive of it. It breeds between the analogue tape and the oscillators. It festers between the parsnips and the Kafka-esque Italian system of claiming expenses. Not to mention the dangerously aroused goblins.
Carefully shot by Peter Strickland, we never see the trashy results of Gilderoy’s agricultural abuse – but we feel every beat. Our eardrums witness the horror as it’s created. And each dismemberment – every yell – pushes them one decibel closer to bursting.
When they do, Berberian turns the speakers up to 11. Gone is the subtle sound design of the first half: in its place is a batshit piece of art that defies explanation. Without raising his voice, the hypnotic Jones flips into a complete wreck; he’s little more than a pair of ears in a cardigan. Strickland’s saturated camera, meanwhile, lingers on the dingy details of the period room, zooming in on lettuces like there’s no tomorrow.
Is this all in his mind? Have we been in one big horror film all along? Goodness knows.
Red lights flash on the screen whenever Gilderoy is recording. One giant word: silenzio. Berberian Sound Studio fills that silence with surreal Lynchian flourishes, but more than that, it drowns it in terror. And it does it all with little more than a microphone and a cabbage. A masterclass in the noise of fear, Berberian Sound Studio goes in one ear – and never leaves.
Berberian Sound Studio is available to watch on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription, until 28th July 2019.
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