While Berberian Sound Studio isn’t a total loss, I can’t quite recommend it since it derails from its plot about 20 minutes before it ends.
Berberian Sound Studio
Isolation is the name of the game in Peter Strickland’s new thriller Berberian Sound Studio. The film concerns itself with a British man Gilderoy, played perfectly by Toby Jones, a sound engineer who is asked to come to Rome to work on the sound design of a new Giallo film that is currently in post-production at the Berberian Sound Studio.
The film begins with Gilderoy walking into the Studio for the first time. The first person he runs into is the receptionist who warns Gilderoy, before he can get a sentence out, that she doesn’t speak a lick of English. This is a running idea throughout the film. Gilderoy is the only person in the film who speaks English thus whenever anyone else talks to each other in the film it’s in Italian. There are numerous shots of him looking lost or in wonder of what is being said. A lot of the shots that are framed around Gilderoy are tight close ups on his face.
Adding to the confusion, the film they are working on is never shown. Images reflect on the actor’s faces as they watch the film they are producing. Other than 2 or 3 minutes of a film that consists of shots of landscape, there are no scenes that take place outside the studio. Strickland aims to keep you feeling as alone and secluded as possible. And it works.
From the look of Berberian Sound Studio, making sound for film can be as fun as it is as frustrating. Using everything from fruit, instruments, and different pieces of flooring and ground (dirt, grass etc.), Gilderoy and his team begin to craft the sounds for their new film. For example, when someone is getting hacked to death by a serial killer, cutting up a watermelon is used.
Strickland’s filmmaking works wonders (for a while) for the film. References to some of the great Italian horror directors, like Dario Argento and Mario Bava are thrown in. Even David Lynch, the great surrealist filmmaker, has a hat tipped to him. The tone of the film is quiet and calm. But you can tell something is amiss. You feel like at any time something could go awry. Credit goes to Strickland for keeping the audience on its toes throughout the film.
Jones’ performance as Gilderoy is one of his best. As a man who is slowly losing his mind, Jones keeps his performance in check. He doesn’t go overboard with acting and stays on the right side of the camp. The same cannot be said about Strickland. While roughly 80% of the film is well done and a very good example of claustrophobic filmmaking, the final 20% loses the plot. The film ultimately goes nowhere, which is very unfortunate considering what preceded it.
Rarely do I think films need to be longer but in this case, I think another 20 minutes could have been beneficial to the film. Berberian Sound Studio feels like Strickland ran out of money and had to just release what he had filmed. Because of this the film never becomes what it originally set out to be. While Berberian Sound Studio isn’t a total loss, it has great atmosphere, sense of dread, and some great performances, I can’t quite recommend it since it derails from its plot about 20 minutes before it ends.