Thursday, May 30, 2013

Film Review: Berberian Sound Studio [2012]

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.
Right now.
Click over to YouTube and cut and paste “Berberian Sound Studio Trailer” into the search bar.
I’ll wait.

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.

Film Review: Entrance [2012]


I think that this film was suggested to me by an acquaintance.
I think we were having a conversation about moody psychological horror films that were a “slow burn”.
The kind of psychological horror film that slowly creeps up on you and before you know it, it’s inside your head, knocking all of your favorite cherished things off of the shelves in your mind.
Unfortunately, this was not one of those films.
Slow, yes. It was quite slow.
For the first two-thirds of the film we follow a plain/pretty twenty-something barista as she walks back and forth from work and goes to sleep and wakes up and feeds her dog and little else.
Yes, I got the sense that she was supposed to be “alienated”. Alone in the city.
Surrounded by people, but unable to establish a deep and meaningful connection with any of them.
I got that.
But I also got bored.
I spent the first two-thirds kind of admiring the sense of “pace” that is rarely seen in contemporary American films and I was, indeed, hoping that it would be a slow-burn.
I was also hoping that this wasn’t the kind of film that had subtle fore-shadowing so you’d feel compelled to watch the film twice to notice the prophetic moments that you didn’t notice the first time through.
Because I truly didn’t want to watch the first two-thirds of this film again.
Thankfully, if it was, I don’t care, because I’m not going to watch this again.
Because at the two-third point, suddenly the film turns into an artless masked killer with an ax movie.
At least it got interesting, but it didn’t make up for the first hour and a half of boring.
The lead gets knocked down, knocked out, and tied and taped and gagged.
Then she spends the last third of the film kind of trying to escape and hide from the masked ax killer.
I think that the first two-thirds of the film were supposed to build a sympathetic interest in the lead actress so that we would be invested in her fate.   But they didn’t and I wasn’t and I didn’t care if she escaped or was given a brand new ax wound as a goodbye gift.
The supporting characters are also a group of those forgettable average low-level hipster-types with half-hearted beards and shaggy haircuts and collared shirts with the collars and cuffs roguishly unbuttoned.   I was also unable to care about what happened to any of these characters who sort of pointlessly drift in and out of the view of the camera saying and doing nothing worth remembering
Perhaps this was an attempt at an existential slasher film.
An exploration of ennui.
If so, the formulaic execution of the final third of the film confounds this intention.
To the films credit, it wasn’t unwatchable. I made it all the way through to the end.
Also the soundtrack was complimentary to the images and the first two-thirds of the film were quite believable.   And boring.
The actors were naturalistic and believable and their performances weren’t overly self-conscious or presentational. But they were still forgettable.
The camera seems to have been operated completely handheld.
If done well, this method can add a believable and naturalistic feel to the composition of scenes and can be quite immersive.   Unfortunately in this film, it was not used successfully, and the camera movement soon becomes a character in itself, making the camera operator a character in the film as they follow the actress at close-range, seeming to improvise every shot, making it up as they go along.
If they had the actress do something other than get ambushed and bound and play hide-and-go-seek for a third of the film it might have made an interesting drama along the lines of Paris, Texas (1984) or Bodies, Rest, and Motion (1993), or Next Stop Wonderland (1998).   But they didn’t and it didn’t.
I checked out the listing on and the synopsis is as follows:
“ENTRANCE is about the limits of our perception, how the things lurking on the periphery of our lives can lead to horrific conclusions; about how she fell out of love with the city, but it wouldn't let her go.”
This may have been the intention of the creators, but it certainly was not the end result.
I gave them three stars on because I was able to endure the whole thing and they were at least successful in combining sound and moving images to tell a story.
But I wouldn’t want to subject myself to this two-thirds boring / one-third unimaginative contemporary slasher film again.

On the Internet: