DIR/WRI: Peter Strickland • PRO: Mary Burke, Keith Griffiths • DOP: Nicholas D. Knowland • ED: Chris Dickens • DES: Jennifer Kernke • CAST: Toby Jones, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Susanna Cappellaro, Cosimo Fusco
English director Peter Strickland is quickly making quite a name for himself. After his menacing gothic debut feature Katalin Varga (2009) Strickland now gives us the fantastically creepy Berberian Sound Studio.
Set in the 1970s, an English sound mixer, Gilderoy, has travelled to Italy to apply his aural magic to a new Italian giallo film in post-production, The Equestrian Vortex – a sleazy genre of sadistic exploitation. Upon arrival he finds himself entangled in a world beyond his comfort zone that hammers his mental state into some sort of reverbed smoothie.
Gilderoy is employed for his skill with the sounds he makes that bring aural life to the abject carnage that occurs on screen. So we hear The Equestrian Vortex in all its gory glory – from the slashing of melons, to the drops of water in hot oil; all expertly used to match the grizzly, sadistic scenes on screen. Scenes we never actually see. The only sight of The Equestrian Vortex we see is the beautifully reconstructed opening titles of the film that perfectly recreate those of so many ’70s giallo films – an attack of cacophonous shrill bursts stereovomiting over dripping blood and screaming skulls.
It all proves too much for poor Gilderoy. And there’s nowhere to go now but down.
Toby Young is a delight as the mousy Gilderoy, who writes letters home to his mother concerning the cathedral of chaffinches nesting outside his bedroom at his rural English home – in direct contrast to the claustrophobic, sense-spearing surroundings he now finds himself in. Gilderoy shuffles around the studio in fearmusement constantly being badgered by his fiery Italian smarm-mongering producer and a finagling director, alongside a bizarre bevvy of characters – including the wonderful 2 Massimos and a coven of scream queens, taking in all the oddities of sleazy Italian horror – where else would the viewer be treated to a ‘dangerously aroused goblin’.
Strickland’s camera fetishizes the analogue recording equipment to heighten the writhing tension and hotpoke the audience into the ensuing Lynchian-like nightmare that Gilderoy cannot wake from. A nightmare that becomes a maze of mental malice as Gilderoy slowly dissolves psychologically into a world of demented headbanging torture.
Though some may have problems with the puzzling artifice of the film’s latter stages – it’s refreshing to not be spoon-fed a resolution and instead revel in the visceral experience which reflects the entire film’s sense of mischievous malevolence.
Best film I’ve heard this year, that’s for sure.
Here’s hoping The Equestrian Vortex rears its noxious noggin as an extra on the DVD.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Berberian Sound Studio is released on 31st August 2012