Directed by Peter Strickland
If there is one film creating an unexpected buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, it’s Peter Strickland’s foray into the sound design world of Seventies Italian giallos, Berberian Sound Studio.
The premise of this film is enough to pique the interest of any ardent horror fan of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava as it’s about a quiet, socially inept sound engineer named Gilderoy (played by the always impressive Toby Jones), who is commissioned to move to Italy in the Seventies to work on vain and sexist director Santini’s (Antonio Mancino) latest horror film, The Equestrian Vortex.
Obviously out of his comfort zone, Gilderoy works with Santini’s aggressive yet proficient second-hand man Francesco (Cosimo Fusco, most famously known for playing Rachel’s boy-toy Paolo on “Friends”) on the sound design by stabbing cabbages, sizzling water on a pan and coaching the actresses apart from the film during their screaming moments onscreen through ADR.
However, once Gilderoy becomes unnerved by The Equestrian Vortex’s gruesome and misogynist nature and Santini’s overbearing personality and sexually harassing demeanor towards his female cast, he slowly spirals into a state of dementia; and it’s left unclear as to what the catalyst truly is.
The biggest risk Berberian Sound Studio takes that will be construed as both the film’s greatest strength and weakness (depending on the filmgoer) is that Strickland bravely never shows you the actual film the sound studio is working on. At first this is remarkably cunning as viewers are easily left amused by just hearing the synopses of every scene, which include witches burning at the stake and female victims having sizzling red pokers being jammed into their vaginas. For its first half Berberian Sound Studio is able to glorify the giallo sub-genre while also exemplifying its many weaknesses in a brilliant manner.
Unfortunately, after the first half of the film, Berberian Sound Studio becomes nothing more than a pretentious, incomprehensible art-house movie as it never explains why Gilderoy descends into madness and ends at such an anti-climactic moment that it will leave the non-ostentatious viewers gasping for all the wrong reasons.
Berberian Sound Studio is sure to divide audiences as the art-house crowd will admire it for its boldness, whereas the horror crowd will wish they saw the fake film The Equestrian Vortex instead.
2 1/2 out of 5