Starring – Toby Jones, Antonio Mancino, Fatma Mohamed
Over the past few months, I had begun to hear more and more good things about Berberian Sound Studio, Peter Strickland’s follow-up to Katalin Varga. Respected critics nationwide had described it as a truly terrifying and creepy horror, which naturally grabbed my attention as a casual horror fan. The casting of Toby Jones in a rare main role didn’t it none, either.
Set during the 1970s, Berberian Sound Studio’s story centres around British foley artist Gilderoy (Jones) as he is engaged to provide the sound effects and audio for an Italian horror movie. The combined stress that comes from his first forray into horror, the unfamiliar surroundings and the constant feeling that he is being kept in the dark soon takes its toll on poor Gilderoy’s mind. His descent into madness is slow and steady, but by the end, quite obvious.
In a cast that is largely unknown, Toby Jones (an actor who deserves greater recognition in my book) stands out. The actors around him can by no means be called bad, however Jones’ acting just shines through the haze of fairly flat Italian characters. There is the mean boss, the flirtatious son, the mysterious director….the side characters are all a little 2D unfortunately.
The first half hour or so of Berberian is pretty good, and certainly serves as a way to introduce the characters, and to build tension. Unfortunately that tension just kinda simmers and never really boils over into anything interesting. What should be an intense voyage of a man and his fragile mental state being destroyed, ends up being a confusing mess of a story. I will be honest, by the time the thankfully short 94 minutes had passed-by I had no real idea what actually happened to any of the characters.
What the film lacks in intensity and linear story telling, it does make up in cinematography and design. Set during the height of the 1970’s giallo film making craze, Strickland has gone all out to make this feel like a film from the earlier decade, with the set, wardrobe and even direction having that authentic retro feel. The pacing certainly feels more like something from 40 years ago, and Strickland should feel pleased with that, whilst his smart use of coloured lighting, and unsurprisingly, sound effects, help to add a nauseating layer to those scenes where Gilderoy is slipping into insanity.
Berberian Sound Studio certainly aims for the stars. It can’t be denied that this has a very Hitchcockian feel about it, but sadly Strickland’s flattering film never really builds enough tension to be worthy of something from The Master of Suspense.
Given the sweeping adulation poured on this from critics, I am sure there are plenty of “movie snobs” out there who will disagree with me, however for all the good work of Toby Jones and those behind the camera, this just wasn’t a film I got anything from.
Rating – 2 out of 5
Did you know? Peter Strickland’s first film Katalin Varga was financed by an inheritance he received from his late Uncle, and was filmed over a lightning quick 17 days!