Berberian Sound Studio


Fish-out-of-water, art-horror hybrid from Peter Strickland

Received wisdom tells us that peeking behind the curtain kills the movie magic.

But Peter Strickland doesn’t deal in received anythings.

For his debut, Katalin Varga, the Berkshire-born tyro dodged Brit-pic calling-card clichés and twisted revenge movie basics into east European art-curio shapes.

For his follow-up, he spooks up a fish-out-of-water, art-horror hybrid about movie sound that unnerves even when we know it’s just a melon being slaughtered.

A meticulously mounted sense of rootlessness guides his sleight-of-hand.

No outdoor shots accompany Brit-dork soundman Gilderoy’s (Toby Jones) stint at a claustrophobic Italian studio to work on The Equestrian Vortex, where his mistaken assumption that the film is about horses, not witches and “dangerously aroused” goblins, stresses his semi-comic displacement.

Then there’s the language gap and the divide between uptight yet polite Gilderoy and his extrovert yet brusque Euro hosts.

It’s worth remembering Strickland’s past also included time in an experimental music troupe, because he puts heart into the art of noise here.

The tools of Gilderoy’s trade (vintage equipment, arcane diagrams) exude alien wonder to a digi-age audience. So does his spellbinding conjuring of ad-hoc UFO sounds: imagine some sonic exotica cooked up for ’60s Doctor Who.

But it’s Gilderoy’s use of fruit and veg that cuts most keenly to the magic’s marrow. Echoes of The Conversation, Blow Out, Suspiria and Eraserhead reverberate, but did they create a world where an assault on a radish could make us wince?

A true original, Strickland is staking out destabilising turf of his own here.

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