Sound is being created and dubbed for a new Italian horror movie, and the British sound engineer Gilderoy was requested for the project. Not used to the genre of film, it's hard for him to get started. The bizarre scenes he has to create sound for, together with the hostile work environment around the studio, are two factors that puts his otherwise calm mind in the midst of chaos, and he's afraid that he might be losing it.
It's hard for a movie like this to go unnoticed, especially as I always work on a "Best of the Year" list at the end of every year. This was one that I really wanted to watch last year, but it was just slipping by while I went through a ton of other stuff. One day I knew I'd check it out, it was just something about a "horror movie" that is built around sound that could be a great and new approach to horror. Except it's mostly just horror in its heart and soul, it's execusion is more psychological thriller/drama. Thanks to Njutafilms I now got a chance to watch it, and hoping that a year of hype hasn't ruined it.
I'll give you a clue - the hype hasn't ruined it at all for me.
Gilderoy is a British sound engineer mostly working on projects with family content. Nice things where his expertise doesn't get room to shine, but his skill has certainly not gone by unnoticed. An Italian filmmaker is making a horror movie - although he doesn't want to sunk as low as to call it that, he'd rather call the genre by his name - and wants Gilderoy in charge of sound. He's happy to get the job, and flies over to the studio in Italy to start working, without knowing it's a horror movie. His time there is already rocky when he has to fight to get the money back for the price of the flight, something which should be easy but ends up being its own little hell. Once he has to come up with ways to make squishy gore sounds, listen to actresses perform as witches, and generally create a bizarre mood for the movie, he's starting to get uneasy with his work. The people he work for are also quite the assholes, treating everyone involved as if they are easily changable - actresses especially. And that's because some of the actresses are only hired for their looks so they can be fucked by the director. Gilderoy is not comfortable being at this sound studio, and it's beginning to eat his mind up. The sound, the relationships, the entire bizarre situation he has been put in is slowly creating its own world in his mind.
One of the best things about "Berberian Sound Studio" is that it rarely steps into horror territory. It has a few scenes that could scare, but they don't lead to your typical horror end. Although a ton of vegetables are butchered to create effective sound, this is not a violent or bloody movie at all, it's all about the psychological drama and how things effect Gilderoy. The movie might come off as too ambiguous, bordering on the pretentious, and I don't think that's wrong - while the movie is very much a tribute to classic horror such as giallo, there are several strokes of classic art dramas in there too. Ambiguous or not, the movie wasn't there to scare me, but to unsettle me, and that certainly worked even without a big climactic end or monsters, blood and boobs. It's a movie called "Berberian Sound Studio", and you get exactly what you come for.
My main issue here, and unfortunately that's a big one, is the stereotypical characters in the Italian film crew. The director/producers being total nonchalant and rude pigs, wanting everyone to obey, and having sex with the actresses, might be a good setup for Gilderoy to feel like he's at the wrong place, but they are copies of characters we have seen before. And honestly, it's just tiresome. They don't add any thrills or suspense to me, they are just annoying pricks that hold back the movie. It's a needed evil for it to move, but I would have loved to see that solved some other way. I am instantly thrown out of a movie when these stereotypical assholes come in, and that happens quite a lot.
I didn't let the annoying characters ruin my experience completely, I still really enjoyed the movie, and it's hard not to when the sound work is truly fantastic, and Toby Jones as Gilderoy is perfect. The movie is interesting because one part of it takes you inside of a studio, you get to see how they work there, and the other part is that we totally believe the hell that Gilderoy is building up in his mind. He sells it, and the writers never went overboard with it. The subtle, perfect middle-ground for a psychological drama is met, and that's what made me enjoy this experience.
"Berberian Sound Studio" should be seen by movie fans overall. I doubt this will go down in history as animportant piece of art, but it is a very ejoyable, very engaging and very well made tribute of 70s cinema, while not becoming just another homage. The acting and the sound is just excellent, and even with its flawed "bad guy" characters I think it's a great way to spend 90 minutes. For me it was totally worth waiting a year to watch.