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Film Details

Directed by: Peter Strickland

Produced: 2012

Countries & Regions: United Kingdom

DVD Details

Certificate: 15

Length: 92 mins

Format: DVD

Region: Region 2

Released: 31 December 2012

Cat No: ART628DVD

Extras:
Languages(s): English/Italian
Subtitles: English
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Berberian Sound Studio

Cast: Toby Jones , Hilda Peter , Guido Adorni , Cosimo Fusco , Fatma Mohamed , Tonia Sotiropoulou , Eugenia Caruso , Susanna Cappellaro , Layla Amir , Antonio Mancino

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Inventive horror in which a sound engineer working in the confines of an Italian movie studio becomes dangerously absorbed in his work.... Read More

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Inventive horror in which a sound engineer working in the confines of an Italian movie studio becomes dangerously absorbed in his work. The tale is set in the 1970s, when Italian horror films, particularly those belonging to the ’giallo’ genre, were known for being shot soundless, with the effects and language tracks added later so that the movies could be dubbed into multiple languages and marketed more effectively abroad. The British sound engineer, Gilderoy (Toby Jones), works in one such studio, stabbing and otherwise assaulting vegetables to provide the requisite sounds for a horror flick. However, the more time Gilderoy spends in the studio, the more he is drawn into the world of the films on which he works. Some of the horror seems to stem from within, as Gilderoy revisits moments from his past, but it leaves him precariously poised between the real world and the imaginative realm represented by the films...

This riveting second feature by Peter Strickland (after his acclaimed Katalin Varga), Berberian Sound Studio swaps the rural Romanian setting of his debut for a handful of eerie interiors: bare corridors, recording booths, editing suites, and the increasingly troubled mind of Gilderoy (Toby Jones), a timid sound engineer. It begins as a fish-out-of-water tale that mines the English fear of foreignness, but mutates into something much more primal and bizarre.

It’s the 1970s, and Gilderoy is summoned from the comfy Home Counties to the sinister offices of an Italian film studio to create an effects soundtrack for a giallo horror flick entitled The Equestrian Vortex. Gilderoy is pitched into a vortex of his own, as his hosts’ manners slip from courtesy to contempt, and the bizarrely gruesome scenes that he has to watch repeatedly begin to have an insidious influence on his state of mind.

Few films have realised so well the possibilities of sound. The only part of The Equestrian Vortex that we see is the title sequence (a brilliantly lurid pastiche of the giallo genre). After this, we rely on Gilderoy’s horrified reactions to the gruesome acts depicted onscreen, the screams of the actresses, and the sound effects that he devises. These effects - fat sizzling in a pan, vegetables being hacked and crushed - are both comic and oddly unsettling: as in the work of modern surrealists like Jan Svankmajer, objects seem to take on arcane meanings, repetition turns into ritual, and sanity goes south.

Strickland gives us plenty to savour: the lingering shots of analogue recording equipment; the sly humour; Jones’ low-key performance as a priggish milquetoast prey to the pretentious whims of the director and the dark advances of the actresses; and not least, the soundtrack by Broadcast, whose music has long evoked the pre-digital technology and spooky atmospherics of 1970s Britain.

In narrative terms, the film is a mystery tour. It’s ultimately more Antonioni than Argento, with clues presented and then discarded. But the nightmarish world of sounds and images that Strickland creates is thrilling, and the impression it leaves is indelible.

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