Peter Strickland's second feature, Berberian Sound Studio, is an original homage to the art of analogue sound and the power of the medium.
Sound engineer Gilderoy, (Toby Jones) a meek, middle-aged bachelor, is transplanted from home-counties life living with his Mother to engineer the soundtrack for a 1970s Italian film. Trapped in the Italian studio with manipulative, Producer, Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) and a monosyllabic, aged, studio manager, he has no idea what elusive Director, Santini (Antonio Mancino) has in the can beyond the title, The Equestrian Vortex. Confronted by twin Foley goons smashing watermelons in lab coats, Gilderoy questions the relevance to horse riding! While he recoils at the violent, exploitative 'giallo' horror that Francesco reveals, Gilderoy is ensnared in the menacing studio, cashless and unable to recover any of his costs from beautiful, contemptuous, secretary Elena (Tonia Sotiropoulou). Ignorant of the language, overwhelmed by the explosive dynamics between charismatic, unscrupulous Santini, Francesco and the cast, Gilderoy retreats into his work, his only outside communication the letters from his Mother recounting the changing pastoral life he longs to record. Immersed in the simulation of sonic sadism, the resonance of repeated takes twist Gilderoy's grasp of reality. Berberian Sound Studio, produced by WarpX with Screen Yorkshire and the UK Film Council, is a blackly comic film, pregnant with menace. The sound is to die for, a master class in the language of horror and the alchemy of the artists.
There's much comedy in the contrasts, the Anglo-Italian cultural clash, the screen artifice and the studio reality. A droll voice-over introduces each sadistic scene, "A dangerously aroused goblin stalks the dormitory". In the sound booth, actresses bitch about mundanities before the next sickening scream. Murdered vegetables decompose in a festering studio vat substituted for the film that we never see. However, underlying the comedy is a sense of the viewer's complicity in the violence. While familiarity with the exploitative 'giallo' genre and its far-reaching impact on modern horror cinema is not necessary, it is rewarding. Strickland questions the corruptive power of horror and our own self-deception
Writer/Director Peter Strickland is a rare talent whose ambitions are refreshingly original. A clever low budget conceit, his follow up to Katalin Varga, is a fascinating tour de force with a daring tone. It's only weakness, as in 'giallo', is that as Gilderoy's sanity deteriorates, plot seems secondary to sound and vision.