Often, a British director will emerge on the scene in vastly dramatic fashion. It’s happened with several contemporary film-makers; Ben Wheatley for example strode onto the scene with back-to-back films in Down Terrace and Kill List, both of which straddled the line between horror and humour delightfully. Likewise, coming off the grand success of Katalin Varga, Peter Strickland has continued to hone his skills with the highly invasive Berbarian Sound Studio, a film that demonstrates values of a director that perhaps would be belonging to someone with more experience.
Nevertheless, the freedom as an up-and-coming player in the film business can sometimes alleviate pressure to adhere to the murky conventionality of traditional film-making. It certainly seems, at least, as though Strickland is charging his Berbarian Sound Studio to relinquish all shackles, and pursue a narrative that reaches dizzying heights, heights that will both astound and discomfit in equal measure.
Berbarian Sound Studio stars Toby Jones as Gilderoy, a British foley artist who has been requested at the behest of an Italian film director to amplify and enhance the sound of his latest creation. Where Gilderoy believes he is being tasked with working on a project relating to equestrianism, he is realistically at the mercy of a horror film, that derives from the traditions of Giallo cinema. Despite this disconcerting start, he commences on a project that will see him use watermelons to imitate heads splattering on the pavement, clothes to replicate the drowning of a woman and oil burning in a frying pan to demonstrate the burning of a witch. It’s not long though before these menial and straightforward of tasks start to seep and cavern into his psyche, as the distinction between real life and the world of the film come crashing together in an unforgiving manner.
It is this representation of the psychological split that renders Strickland’s piece so effective. It requires patience from the audience to want to stay to realise the culmination of Gilderoy’s foreign, strangely ethereal adventure. In many ways, we are challenged to endure that which Jones’ character must as well, because the strength throughout this bewildering experiential nightmare is how the distorted sounds and drawn out strands of noise are not only bludgeoned into Gilderoy’s mindset, but ours as well.
The application of sound editing is vital to this piece, of course. It is, in and of itself a lesson about a component of film that should never willingly be overlooked as insignificant. Producing a film’s entire landscape can be connected to the diagetic and non-diagetic qualities that stem from the talented fingertips of people like Gilderoy. The direction of Berbarian Sound Studio is somewhat dictated by the way the sound guides our lead character, taking him from the offish simple beginnings of landing in a new country to being utterly overwhelmed and encapsulated by the very project that should, optimally, remain independent.
Where Strickland uses inaudible screeches and skewed replications of voice to highlight the way that Gilderoy suffers, much credit must be given to Toby Jones, an actor who garnered great critical acclaim through Infamous but up until this point wasn’t perhaps immediately recognisable, beyond his discernible pair of penetrating eyes. His subtle encapsulation of a broken man’s demeanour is perfectly balanced; he must be wary of giving away too much, being too forward, but being deliberate in his gradual advancement of a character who becomes desperately separated from his original composition. Without saying very much at all, his character effuses slights and fidgets of facial movement to drag us into a psychological hell.
Further analysis might lead us plentifully to areas belonging to the human condition; whether Gilderoy is being manufactured by this Giallo Horror into a trans-physical devil figure, or just being shown the realities of his fate is an open-ended question posed by the director. What is seemingly understood, however, is that this is a remarkable film that combines two equally ambitious individuals in Toby Jones and Peter Strickland. They work seamlessly together, harbouring similarly fervent aims to produce the distorted story of destruction and devastation. This is Toby Jones at his best. This is Peter Strickland working wonders. This is undoubtedly a boon for British Cinema.