Berberian Sound Studio is a smashing success

In the era of sequels, remakes, and reboots films that feel truly unique are increasingly rare.  Peter Strickland’s sophomore feature, Berberian Sound Studio is one such gem.  The English filmmaker explores the psychological impact of all things sound via Toby Jones’ meek audio mixer who gets sucked into the madness of an Italian horror film production.  Remarkably evocative, wickedly intelligent and thoroughly compelling, Berberian Sound Studiowill leave mouths agape and minds blown.

Berberian Sound Studio is in UK cinemas 31 August

Jones’ Gilderoy is the timid audio specialist brought to Italy to apply his expertise to the post-production of director Santini’s (Antonio Mancini) latest shock-horror giallo.  In doing so, he must deal with a multitude of difficulties ranging from technical to personal.  Cosimo Fusco is particularly challenging as the abrasive producer Gilderoy is often holed up with in the eponymous recording studio. Despite never revealing a single frame of Santini’s trashy horror on screen, Strickland so vividly composes aural representations of the scenes repeatedly inflicted upon Gilderoy, that they quickly take disturbing shape within the mind of the viewer.  The power and importance of sound has never been made so resoundingly clear.  Nor has the destruction of produce ever seemed so thoroughly unsettling.  One trip to Berberian Sound Studio will forever alter the way one looks at cabbage and watermelon.

This isn’t just showing-off, though.  The success of the foley effects, scoring and mixing is essential to the progress of the plot itself.  As the production runs into roadblocks and begins to spiral out of control, so too does the tormented Gilderoy.  Jones holds the film together with his reserved approach to the audio engineer, who squirms in the midst of the storm brewing around him.  Meanwhile, Strickland places the viewer alongside the lonely Englishman for the film’s duration and as Gilderoy loses a grip on the reality of it all, so too does the audience.  Berberian Sound Studio gracefully depicts a nightmarish descent into madness thanks to truly spectacular scripting and editing.  Scenes seamlessly transition between the studio and Gilderoy’s apartment, where nothing more than letters from his mother await him and he continues to work into the night before settling into uneasy sleep.

Beautifully and atmospherically shot, Berberian Sound Studio is as much a treat to see as it is to hear.  Unsurprisingly, much focus is paid to the reels and knobs of the analogue recording equipment, which is excellently captured by director of photography Nic Knowland.  Limited depth of field underscores an adoration of the tools involved, while repeated shots of a red flashing “Silencio” sign fill the screen intermittently; growing with menace each time. An inescapable claustrophobia is present throughout Berberian Sound Studio as Strickland never strays beyond the studio and Gilderoy’s apartment.

A brilliantly bonkers final act employs a wide array of inventive techniques that enhance the plot’s progression.  The resolution may not be entirely satisfying, but it’s a wondrous journey in getting there, which is more than worth the price of admission.  Berberian Sound Studio bends minds even through the end credits.  It’s more than slightly humorous when the list of “screamers” rolls, serving as a reminder that the film-making within the film is just as produced as the actual film itself.

Berberian Sound Studio is a uniquely superb cinematic experience that relies on truly exceptional sound design and mixing, whilst boasting a plethora of other aspects to appreciate.  Not only does it provide fascinating insight into the film-making process, but it delivers first-rate psychological thrills in doing so.  As fascinating as it is bizarre, Berberian Sound Studio leaves a reverberating impression that is sure to lure viewers back for seconds.  9/10

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