director Peter Strickland
Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio is a sort of meta-horror film, more interested in the meta than the horror but none the less interesting for that.
Set in the 1970’s, it features Toby Jones as Gilderoy, a mild-mannered English sound engineer brought into an Italian film production that he doesn’t know much about. Lured by the job opportunity and thinking the film was somehow about an equestrian theme, it turns out to be a pretty lurid giallo picture whose title is The Equestrian Vortex, but is really about witches, the Inquisition, torture and lots of screaming. Not at all his cup of tea, Gilderoy keeps his upper lip stiff as he suffers through rudeness and indignities, rescuing long-legged spiders while having to mimic sound effects like sizzling blood, splattering bodies, and crunching bones.
As much as the film is about Gilderoy’s descent into vague madness, it’s about the analog glory days of practical sound effects and the magnetic tape manipulations in old school technologies. Strickland lingers on the vegetables that are the cores of many of the effects, the two foley guys, Massimo & Massimo, who perform their work with professional detachment but with professional perfection.
The only part of the film within a film that we really see is the title sequence, which replaces Berberian Sound Studio‘s own sequence and is executed in a throwback style of the Italian giallo films of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The actors, director, producer and other hangers-on suggest a variety of aspects of the post-production process and the levels of focus and creative investment therein.
If anything, there is more homage in the details than in the film’s narrative. It’s not by any means typical itself of the giallos that I’ve seen which were all more pulpy even when surreal. The film does stretch itself into a more surrealist strategy toward the end, as while the film within the film disappears, the filmmakers, or at least Gilderoy finds himself in his own version of a film within itself.
Interesting if not brilliantly compelling.