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British sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is flown to Italy to work on sound effects for extreme supernatural horror film ‘Il Vortice Equestra’. In an unfamiliar setting – where not only location and working conditions are uncommon to what he is used to, but the film subject matter he is dealing with – Jones gives a great performance as a fish out of water, struggling to find his footing both in the oppressive surroundings of the studio and amidst the foreign culture.

"Room service? Take a fucking hike, mate."

“Room service? Take a fucking hike, mate.”

The people he has to work with for the most part prove to be unwilling to help him feel at home, the behaviour of some – particularly suave and predatory director Santini (Antonio Mancino) – serving to unsettle Gilderoy, and add to his unease. The only comfort he gets comes in the form of letters from home and his interactions with one of the actresses doing voiceover work. Statements of doom, possibly meant to be comedic, come from Santini and producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco), intensifying Gilderoy’s nervousness.

This man knows how to make women scream...

This man knows how to make women scream…

“Come this way…don’t be afraid” is maybe not the best opening line to hear when walking in on a projector showing priests torturing supposed witches…

Equestrian school black magic peril, captured.

Equestrian school black magic peril, captured.

The magic of sound is fully explored within Berberian Sound Studio, an insight into how everything is put together makes for fascinating viewing. There are many things to amuse fans of Giallo horror: the black leather gloved hands of the otherwise unseen studio projectionist, nods to films such as Dario Argento’s ballet academy-set Suspiria, and cracking scene descriptions involving wonders such as undiscovered bodies in poultry tunnels and dangerously aroused goblins prowling dormitories.

The dangerously aroused goblin doesn't look so threatening in his turtleneck/sportscoat combo...

The dangerously aroused goblin doesn’t look so threatening in his turtleneck/sportscoat combo…

There are fantastic scene transitions, used to great effect in confusing the location of Gilderoy’s living arrangements. Does he live in an apartment out with the studio, or a mocked-up room right next door? These bring about a heightened sense of claustrophobia, where it appears that Gilderoy is not only mentally imprisoned by the film and the sound room, but perhaps physically imprisoned.

Gilderoy starts to unravel, like a reel of film falling from the projector.

Gilderoy starts to unravel, like a reel of film falling from the projector.

Unable to escape the horrific subject matter and atmosphere, Gilderoy becomes increasingly distressed, with the need to deliver the most terrifying of sound effects bringing about a change in his character. That we never see any footage of the film, with the exception of the opening titles, increases the power of the atrocious acts Gilderoy is viewing as he smashes aubergines, drowns cabbages, and rips the stalks from radishes with wild abandon. Symbolically cutting back to a vat of discarded and increasingly decaying vegetables, which mirror the crumbling psyche of Gilderoy, It’s not long before it all becomes too much, and the real becomes mixed with the imagined. Onscreen fiction enters Gilderoy’s waking life, and happenings at home infiltrate the celluloid.

The soundbooth virgin, struggling to scream.

The soundbooth virgin, struggling to scream.

For me to accurately pigeonhole Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio would be not only be a struggle, but would also be doing it a disservice. It’s a hypnotic mix of Giallo film history, culture clash and Lynchian nightmare. An uncanny and hallucinatory film phantasm. A ghost in the projector. It’s stunning.

Berberian Sound Studio is a bit of a masterpiece, and contains some of the best sound production out there, where the sound almost becomes a character itself, central to the whole story. A 20-strong sound team have worked audio alchemy with this film. The effects being worked on are of course a main feature of Berberian Sound Studio, but the incidental sounds – footsteps, typing, the dialling of a telephone, paper rustling, envelopes opening, the crawl of a spider – all seem turned up to the maximum volume. You become sensitive to everything you hear. The musical score echoes the unnerving soundtracks of many Italian horror films of the seventies, and adds so much to the atmosphere of the film. The sound effects, when coupled with expertly captured visuals – which often hark back to Giallo films themselves – and an outstanding central performance from Toby Jones, make the film a cinematic experience you can’t miss.

Some cabbages masquerading as DJ's. Banging.

Some cabbages masquerading as DJ’s. Banging.

The eerie, otherworldly sound of a UFO being produced from a simple lightbulb, over a slow tracking shot of vegetables illuminated by candlelight. Don’t think I’ve ever seen the friendly ‘five a day’ seem as creepy…

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