Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with some thoughts on this little bit of weirdness out of the UK.
Berberian Sound System, while British, is essentially a weird Italian horror film about the making of a weird Italian horror film. In that respect it’s a very successful film because it does really faithfully recreate the tone of ‘70s Italian horror, whether it’s the weirder Fulci or Argento or the even more obscure batch of directors that followed in their wake.
Unfortunately, the film languishes and doesn’t have an ending that sends you out of the theater happy that you patiently waited through some of the more extreme (and dull) meta aspects of the film.
The problem is writer/director Peter Strickland isn’t willing to commit to making the meta side a real Italian horror film and instead relies on the confusing cerebral aspect, which doesn’t really work without some kind of payoff.
Basically, the film’s about a shy British sound designer (Toby Jones) who is brought in to work post on a film that he finds out a little too late is a horror film about undead witches returning from the grave and tormenting a schoolgirl’s academy. He’s totally out of his element professionally and personally. Being a meek man in a world filled with loud, abrasive Italians is pretty much an invitation to be a doormat.
He also doesn’t like these kinds of movies and being in charge of the sound puts him directly into the gore and viscera. He has to make stabbings sound real, record vocal cord ripping screams and listen to them over and over and over again.
Add on to that the crazy personalities he has to put up with, be it the angry, but smiling producer or the bi-polar director who proclaims his film as art while simultaneously getting giddy over the sound effect of a hot poker going into a woman’s vagina, and it’s a ripe setting for a skittish lead.
Then as the world of the movie (which we never see, by the way, only hear) mixes with the slow decay of Jones’ mental state we get to the point where the movie could have transitioned into fascinating and instead languishes in confusing obscurity.
The result is a film that has a fascinating set up, great performances and a perfect tone, but that hits a big speedbump about 2/3rds of the way through and never recovers.
If they had nailed the landing on this one it would be an easy recommendation as a double feature with De Palma’s brilliant Blow Out, but it’s not an easy one to recommend because it really does send you out of the theater either actively pissed off or scratching your head… or being actively pissed off while scratching your head.
Mine is one of the more tempered opinions. Most people walked out of the movie hating it, but I really do respect what they tried to do with the film. If they had pulled it off it would have been glorious.
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