Sunday 2 September 2012
BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO
(Peter Strickland, 2012) A tweedy, buttoned-down Englishman (immaculately underplayed throughout by Toby Jones) arrives in Rome in the 1970s to work as the Sound Engineer on a Giallo horror film. He finds his Italian employers unhelpful, unpleasant and even somewhat sinister, but despite his initial reluctance, eventually embraces his role creating the gruesome soundscape of the film. But reality itself begins to shift, and, homesick and dislocated, he starts to lose his grip on his own sanity. Very much a love letter to the Giallo genre, Strickland's film is beautifully directed. It sustains a sense of mounting dread through bold cutting, powerful imagery and a brilliant soundtrack, but it is never quite itself a horror film. Rather it is an opaque, disturbing character study of a character assaulted by his environment. Jones' Gilderoy is a particular type of Brit abroad, clinging to his politeness and boffinry, reading letters from his mother, while the passionate, volatile Italians rage around him. Rome is unseen here; instead all we see is the studio, a corridor and Gilderoy's room, all lit by electric lights, emphasising the unnatural enclosure of this man, even as he recalls the natural life of his home. He even crunches twigs underfoot in the studio, as it reminds him of home. For all that, it is quite a chilly experience, easier to admire than it is to like. Strickland's brilliance is undeniably impressive yet also slightly academic, his films register precise but awfully narrow. The best moment is the most purely pastiched (and the only glimpse we are given of the film within a film, "The Equestian Complex", which we mostly see bathing the characters faces in red as they watch it's scenes of rape, witchcraft and an "aroused goblin"), a dazzling, blood-red credit sequence, soundtracked to sound like Goblin's work for Dario Argento, its wit and perfectly-calibrated tone highlight what's best about the film.