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Quint loved the Italian horror influence on Berberian Sound Studio, but was ultimately let down. Fantastic Fest 2012!

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.

 

 

Make sure to follow me on Twitter to get my live reactions as I dive headfirst into Fantastic Fest!

-Eric Vespe
”Quint”
quint@aintitcool.com
Follow Me On Twitter

Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 23, 2012, 4:27 a.m. CST

    Awesome to see Toby Jones in a lead!

    by edward

    Love that guy...I thought the editing in this film was amazing, the more "meta" things I enjoyed, it made me really want to watch some Argento...they really nailed the tone too.

  • Sept. 23, 2012, 4:56 a.m. CST

    It's really good...

    by huskerdu2

    ...and yeah, it does the Argento stuff brilliantly, but that's only one part of the film. More subtly it totally nails the britishness - the juxtaposition of his repression with the suave Italians - that underpins Jones' character. Arguably, the faux English pastoral documentary is an even better repro than the Giallo stuff and even more important.

  • Sept. 23, 2012, 7:26 a.m. CST

    Toby Jones is the man

    by albert comin

    One of the top best actor woking today. Truly he is his father's son. And about time somebody found him a movie where he can play lead.

  • I'm convinced the movie is the sucess that the AICN crew do not think it is.

  • Sept. 23, 2012, 7:30 a.m. CST

    had" means "head

    by albert comin

    My laptop hates me and tries it's best to make me look like a fool in a public forum. As if i needed any help!

  • Sept. 23, 2012, 7:33 a.m. CST

    Spot on review

    by megapuppy

    I think this review sums up my own feelings perfectly. It's a film that could've been great, but the lack of anything resembling a conclusion or final act really made the whole exercise feel like a waste of time. It's beautifully made and fascinating in places, but ultimately rather dull.

  • Sept. 23, 2012, 7:45 a.m. CST

    lack of anything resembling a conclusion or final act

    by albert comin

    Sounds just like so any of Dario Argento's classics or so many other giallo movies to me. So why the complains? Looks to me this movie is spot on on it's influences.

  • Sept. 23, 2012, 8:11 a.m. CST

    Remember the Club Silencio scene in Mulholland Drive?

    by Garbageman33

    Imagine if the whole movie was just like that and you have Berberian Sound Studio. Ironically, "silencio" plays a part in both movies.

  • Sept. 23, 2012, 9:09 a.m. CST

    Sound

    by Shoegeezer

    Quite weird how few reviews mention the actual sound, how the movie fetishises sound recording equipment and how the sound (and excellent prog-horror score from Broadcast) is so integral to the mood, not just the vegetable smashing stuff.

  • Sept. 23, 2012, 1:38 p.m. CST

    ERMAGERD, BERBERIAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    by spire_walk

  • Sept. 23, 2012, 2:46 p.m. CST

    @Mr garbageman33

    by albert comin

    That sounds sweet. Club Silencio is my favorite scene in "Mulholland Drive".

  • Sept. 24, 2012, 1:33 a.m. CST

    A very cinematic experience

    by pirandello

    Despite having only three sets, this film was very cinematic. Unlike nearly every other released this year, this movie would lose a great deal seen (and heard) anywhere but a cinema. The payoff wasn't all it could be and the pacing was off, but it's still worth seeing!

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