‘Berberian Sound Studio’ is even fun to watch with eyes shut

Toby Jones plays a decaying sound designer in "Berberian Sound Studios." Credit: IFC LLC
Toby Jones plays a decaying sound designer in “Berberian Sound Studios.”
Credit: IFC LLC

‘Berberian Sound Studio’
Director: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Tonia Sotiropoulou
Rating: R
4 (out of 5) Globes

“Berberian Sound Studio” is being sold as a midnight movie — a thriller about a mousy British sound artist (a rare lead performance by the estimable, diminutive character actor Toby Jones) psychologically undone while working on an Italian thriller. Those coming for shocks will be disappointed: As a mindbender, Peter Strickland’s sophomore debut is slender and only semi-sensical. And it’s a tease. The apparently absurdly gory film on which he toils — a “giallo,” the name for the sleazy, atmospheric thrillers and horrors that thrived in Italy in the ‘60s and ‘70s — is never seen beyond its spot-on credit sequence. (The score, also to the letter, is by the English retro band Broadcast, composed and partly recorded before member Trish Keenan’s sudden death.) We keep hearing — or rather, reading subtitles describing — about witches and red-hot pokers inserted into certain body parts. But all we see on-screen is Jones messing with old-timey reels and dirty equipment.

To a certain subsect of viewers, that will be the draw anyway. This is a fetishist’s delight, a warp into an analogue past. The Italians famously rejected synchronous sound; a film’s audio track was constructed entirely in studios like the dingy, hellish one in “Berberian Sound Studios.” As the film begins, Jones’ Gilderoy witnesses the horrible murder of vegetables and watermelons by machetes and hammers, the resulting sound uncannily replicating the crushing and maiming of on-screen bodies. As Gilderoy — who speaks not a word of Italian — descends into loneliness and obsession with working on a deeply unpleasant film whose events we only hear, his mind starts to fracture.

Giallos had more mood than sense, and sometimes had no sense. That “Berberian Sound Studio”’s twisty developments prove thin could be read as an homage-of-sorts to the films it cagily portrays. Like those movies, it has copious mood and a great look, starting with Jones, an actor whose head looks like it was squashed in a vice. (Naturally he played both Truman Capote, in “Infamous,” and Karl Rove in “W.”) Even watched with eyes closed, the film would be a delight; it’s deeply pleasurable listening to sound reels being abruptly stopped on a deck, or the whirr of tape being rewound at great speed. If it’s about anything, it’s about the transformative effect not just of film but of filmmaking. Like giallos, it casts a sinister spell that, if you’re caught up in it, short-circuits the need for something more rational.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Drive charged in fatal hit and run, police…

The NYPD has arrested a man they say is responsible for a fatal hit and run in Manhattan last weekend. Doohee Cho, 33, was hit…

Local

Mayor de Blasio raises minimum wage for some…

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order Tuesday morning that will raise the minimum wage for workers employed by private companies that receive more…

National

3 myths about the working poor

Linda Tirado works to debunk some common stereotypes about the working poor in her new book, "Hand to Mouth."

Money

Lawsuit funding advances: friend or foe?

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article Many plaintiffs awaiting resolution of their lawsuit or legal claim often find themselves in a tricky financial…

Going Out

Which NYC restaurant lost its three-star Michelin rating?

A record 73 restaurants in New York City collected coveted Michelin stars on Tuesday as a mix of trendy spots and fine-dining stalwarts underscored the…

Entertainment

Interview: Metro chats with filmmaker Meir Kalmanson, man…

A New York filmmaker hands out smiles to its residents.

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, Sept. 30: 'Selfie,' 'Utopia'…

'Selfie' This modern day take on the "My Fair Lady" story stars John Cho in the Henry Higgins role. Perhaps instead of "the rain in…

Music

Can't-miss weekend events continue to attract the masses

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article Earlier this summer, the Firefly Music Festival drew crowds of tens of thousands of people to Dover, Delaware.…

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys, Packers, Ravens, Chargers climb

NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys, Packers, Ravens, Chargers climb

NFL

Ryan Quigley making a big impact for Jets…

Ryan Quigley, now in his second year as the Jets punter, had an exceptional afternoon with six punts for an average of 51.7 yards per punt.

NFL

3 positives to take from Jets loss to…

The Jets suffered another loss Sunday — 24-17 to the Lions — but the reason why it hurts so much for Jets fans is that…

MLB

Joe Girardi not confident David Robertson will return…

David Robertson was as seamless as anyone could be replacing Mariano Rivera as he converted 39 saves, with a 3.08 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings.

Style

Products that support breast cancer awareness and research

Asics GT-1000, $100 Asics’ third pink collection in collaboration with Christina Applegate’s Right Action for Women includes this pink-accented version of its best-selling GT-1000 3…

Wellbeing

Bees' stingers hold new hope for cancer cure

A promising new lead in the search for a cancer cure has turned up in a place that most people naturally avoid. A team from…

Home

Emily Henderson on small space design

Design expert Emily Henderson shows us how to upgrade our cramped quarters.

Home

Emily Henderson's pet-friendly style tips

Design expert Emily Henderson shows us to live with pets in style.