Precise, unnerving images. Piercing, terrifying, shrieking sounds abound in Peter Strickland’s odd low-budget cinephile psycho-drama Beberian Sound Studio. The film stars Toby Jones as Gilderoy, diffident Foley or sound artist from England hired by an Italian film director to work on his latest project, a bizarre Giallo horror picture entitled The Equestrian Vortex.
Shot on whats seems like several self-contained interior sets, no daylight is allowed to creep into the film. Gilderoy’s focus on the job at hand, his social alienation as a foreigner abroad in the midst his Italian co-workers and, his growing isolation and loneliness in the studio and in his cramped apartment create an intense claustrophobic, paranoid atmosphere that is both bewitching and at times frustrating; the line between what is real and isn’t becomes blurred but the film itself also becomes somewhat incoherent and surreal. Although perhaps this is Strickland’s intention, to mimic the style of a giallo film from the 60’s and 70’s in which logic and coherence were often sacrificed for extreme style and sensation.
While it is certainly a psychological horror film that recalls Roman Polanski (Repulsion, The Tenant) it also owes a fair debt to films such as The Conversation or Blow-Out films in which we see the craft and techniques of audio manipulation wedded to a portrait of an obsessive sound professional. But when the film does creep into a more impressionistic fugue like state and the border between his life working on the film and the unseen film itself soon disappears it careens further into – dare I say it? – David Lynch territory, hinted at by the studio’s ‘Silenzio’ sign, the bold and repeated use of the colour red – which granted could also be a reference to the use of lurid blood red in many an Italian horror picture by the likes of Bava and Argento- the stilted, enigmatic dialogue and later on Gilderoy’s death and seeming resurrection speaking in dubbed Italian.
Strickland uses repetition and suggestion to slowly build to an unsettling aural and visual fever pitch climax but is the film a study of a man’s psyche fracturing or a study of the fractured nature of film craft itself? Repeated viewings probably essential.