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New Release Review - Berberian Sound Studio

Directed by: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Cosimo Fusco, Suzy Kendall, Antonio Mancino, Susanna Cappellaro

Mild mannered sound technician Jones becomes increasingly disturbed while working on an Italian horror film.
Unlike most film-makers working today, Strickland clearly loves cinema. He doesn't shove his influences down your throat like Tarantino or Todd Haynes, instead he incorporates them the way the movie brats of the seventies did, creating something that will feel fresh to casual viewers while thrilling those more obsessive members of the audience. Strickland is clearly one of us.
The horror genre is one that can't be casually undertaken. Many film-makers think themselves somehow above the genre, thus we get patronizing failures like "Antichrist" and "Black Swan". (The credits of Von Trier's film list a "Horror film researcher" which says it all really. If you have no interest in a genre Lars, you have no business attempting it.) Like Jones' character here, they can't see past the blood. Thankfully Strickland can. His film doesn't even feature as much as a paper cut. He knows that real horror is about atmosphere and suggestion. Val Lewton would have hired him.
Like Kirk Douglas in "Two Weeks in Another Town", Jones (quickly becoming the British Philip Seymour Hoffman) finds himself in the madness of seventies Italy, supervising the dubbing of a film, here a horror film which seems to be a thinly veiled attack on the Catholic church. He's a master of his craft, obsessing over minute details such as the correct ripeness of a melon to mimic the sound of a head exploding. In one scene he entrances his Italian co-workers during a power outage by making a lightbulb sound like a UFO. (I recall an anecdote about Spielberg similarly entertaining his crew with a torch during a blackout on the set of "Jurassic Park".)
With his obsessive attention to reels of recorded sound, Jones recalls Gene Hackman in "The Conversation" or John Travolta in "Blow Out" but the cinematic character he's closest to is Edward Woodward's morally uptight police officer in "The Wicker Man". As the film progresses it appears he may have been lured to Italy for the same kind of reasons Woodward found himself on Summerisle. There are several nods to David Lynch, from the studio's flashing "Silenzio" sign to the film's final act which evokes the Black Lodge of "Twin Peaks", itself a homage to Italian horror-meister Mario Bava.
In "The Purple Rose of Cairo", Mia Farrow wanted to enter the cinema screen and escape from reality. Here the scenario is reversed. Jones wants to keep his distance but, like us film lovers, is ultimately consumed by the beckoning white canvas. 
7/10

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