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January 03, 2014

Movies You Missed & More: Berberian Sound Studio

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 9.36.37 AMThis week in movies you missed: You've seen the "art of horror." Now hear the sound of horror.

What You Missed

Gilderoy (Toby Jones), a meek British sound engineer known for his work on nature and children's programs, has been hired to mix a brutal Italian horror flick in the Dario Argento vein.

He's way out of his depth at the Italian studio. The pompous producer (Cosimo Fusco) and lecherous director (Antonio Mancini) roll their eyes at Gilderoy's shyness and squeamishness. The secretary gives him the runaround when he tries to get his expenses reimbursed. And he just can't get used to the bearded Foley artists, known as Massimo and Massimo, who smash melons to approximate smashing heads.

Surrounded by the sounds of mayhem, Gilderoy starts to imagine himself the savior of a young actress doing ADR (Fatma Mohamed) who clashes with the producer over the volume of her screams.

Why You Missed It

Widest U.S. release: 11 theaters. Writer-director Peter Strickland won British and festival awards for this arty evocation of '70s horror — in which no blood is shed on screen. It's on video, Netflix and Amazon Instant, etc.

Should You Keep Missing It?

If you want a straight horror movie? Yes. Berberian Sound Studio is emphatically not one, despite its pervasive creepiness. Don't expect an escalation of terror, or even much plot.

If you enjoy homages to horror movies and the key role sound plays therein? No. This movie was made for horror geeks who don't mind spending 92 minutes just soaking up the atmosphere of the giallo.

My feelings fall between those two positions. I enjoyed the hypnotic atmosphere. Yet, having seen only two Argento films (the one Gilderoy is making recalls Suspiria), I found the movie somewhat claustrophobic and repetitive, and occasionally yearned to catch a glimpse of the lurid horror film instead. (We see only its opening credits, but we hear entire scenes involving the slaughter of young equestrians and the Inquisition torture of witches.)

A lot of the movie is just watching Jones at work, so it's lucky his Wally Shawn-esque little face is kind of fascinating. (You may remember him as Karl Rove in W., Claudius Templesmith in The Hunger Games movies or the voice of Dobby in Harry Potter.) Gilderoy looks like Dobby next to the svelte, elegant, confident Italians, and when he fondles a letter from his mum back in England, his character skirts parody.

But then Gilderoy shows up the Italians in a key scene with his ability to draw sound effects from ordinary objects. And the letters from his mum turn out to be closer to the blood-soaked movie's horror than you might expect.

I wish Strickland had found a way to push that reversal of expectation further into an actual plot resolution. He may not be De Palma, but this movie shows a ton of promise.

Verdict: See it if you could just listen to the unsettling sounds of Suspiria all day.

This Week in Theaters

Nothing! Almost. The theaters are still busy selling tickets to Christmas-week releases, but there is another Paranormal Activity sequel.

This Week on Video

CBGB, Don Jon, InAPPropriate Comedy, Last Love, Hell Baby, Zombie Hamlet.

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