I had heard vague murmurings about this film when it started popping up in status updates from my Facebook friends that review horror-genre films.
I don’t read reviews from other reviewers which, I guess, makes me a bad friend on Facebook.
But I don’t want my opinion of a film to be influenced by the opinions of another reviewer.
Too many times, synopsis serves instead of critical insight and sometimes I am unable to enjoy a film as much if I have someone else’s opinion rattling around in my head while watching it.
Instead if enough people whose opinions that I trust and seem to do passable critical work include a film in their reviews then it’s an indication that the film is worth watching for better or worse.
This was how I discovered Dead Set (2008) when two friends whose opinions I usually agree with recommended this excellent reality show / zombie movie mash-up and one of them gave me a bootleg two-disc set to take home and watch and I wasn’t disappointed.
Of course you’re going to get your armchair film fan opinion about any and every new horror movie that makes it to the multiplexes, but for the most part I don’t care about your one paragraph “awesome” or “awful” review because I try to maintain a higher critical standard.
I had read the title of Berberian Sound Studio enough times that I added it to my list of films to download and review.
First I watched the trailer, and if I hadn’t made up my mind to watch the film before I saw the trailer, my mind was definitely made up afterwards.
If you haven’t seen the film yet and you’re undecided as to whether or not you want to watch the film, go and watch the trailer now.
Click over to YouTube and cut and paste “Berberian Sound Studio Trailer” into the search bar.
Great trailer, right?
The trailer is absolutely indicative of the tone of the film.
A tobacco-tinted period piece.
A love note to the golden era of Italian giallo films.
Although I think that my semi-enjoyment of the film was enhanced by my familiarity with the giallo genre and my knowledge of the production of those films.
If you watch the major films of Dario Argento and his peers, films like Suspiria (1977) and Opera (1987), you can’t help but notice that the audio for the film seems disconnected from the visual elements. It’s something that you get used to and can ignore after a few viewings, because the visual elements are so beautifully presented, but on first viewing it may seem strange that regardless of where a scene takes place all of the dialogue seems to have the same room tone and the dialogue doesn’t always synch with the movement of the mouths of the actors.
The reason for this is that the films by those directors in that period were shot using multi-lingual casts and crews and live sound was not recorded. Everything you hear was dubbed or foleyed in after principal photography.
It’s particularly noticeable in the behind-the-scenes footage included in the DVD for Two Evil Eyes (1990) an American/Italian anthology film with segments directed by American director George A. Romero and Italian director Dario Argento.
On the set for the segment directed by Dario Argento, the set is awash with production noise including a giant fan and the director giving the shouted verbal cue for the practical special effect to be executed.
I think that knowing this fact will increase your appreciation for Berberian Sound System, because otherwise you may wonder what the point of all of this time spent in the audio post-production of the film.
First, let’s discuss the positive elements of this film.
The cast for this film is amazing.
Not that any of them have to be exceptional in their roles.
Although none of the performances felt unnecessarily presentational.
If anything I credit the casting director for drafting a cast that is visually complimentary to the intended tone of the film.
It shouldn’t be surprising that since the audience’s avatar is a sound designer that the soundtrack is practically flawless.
The ambient synth music often used is more similar to the soundtrack for Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) than the giallo films of the period, but it is still serviceable and enjoyable and complimentary to the film.
As for the drawbacks of the film, pacing is a serious problem.
I definitely do not have a problem watching long films or films with slow-builds.
I think that this film would have been twice as good if it was half as long.
As a 45min. film, taking out the scenes of the lead sitting by himself in his room, thinking, or the slow pans across the audio chart I think that the film would have been more successful in holding my attention.
It seems that the all-important question “Does this scene move the film forward?” wasn’t asked often enough.
There was all of this effort to gradually increase tension without a satisfactory pay off.
But I’m somewhat glad that they didn’t resolve the story.
Around 1:11mins. the flashback/dream sequence/dissociative scene or whatever it was supposed to be tipped the hand for the rest of the film knocking the suspension of disbelief out from under the audience.
An hour and a half of build and two minutes of “crazy” seemingly arbitrarily tossed in at the two-thirds mark isn’t a decent deal unless it comes at the end and resolves the story.
The “film within a film” or “dissociative lead character” is a device too often used and therefore rendered ineffective on any somewhat sophisticated film viewer, especially in a film about the making of a film.
Although I have to begrudgingly admit that the mis-dubbed scene directly afterwards was a pleasant nod to the giallo films to which this film was obviously intended as an homage to.
Overall, the film is successful as a period style piece and an homage to the giallo films I love.
A horror film enthusiast’s horror film of which there are too few being made as of late.
But all things said and done, watching a contemporary homage to a genre of film that I know and love wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped it would be and there was a lot of wasted potential after all that building of suspense that I felt wasn’t successfully capitalized on.
For the first two-thirds of the film I was of the opinion that if I had the opportunity to watch Berberian Sound Studio in a proper theatrical setting I would eagerly do so, but after watching the final third of the film I think I’ll pass.
This film is unexceptional as a horror film or a suspense film.
Mostly it is worth mentioning as a stylish contemporary period piece about film production in a previous era, and if you’re using criteria that fine to define the relative merit of a film maybe you’re trying too hard.
Okay, maybe I’m trying too hard.
I think I’d rather watch The Equestrian Vortex.