Peter Strickland’s art-horror melon mash up is a curious movie indeed.
So curious in fact that it’s difficult to describe or conclude anything from an artistically sumptuous piece of work that struggles to ultimately deliver on its patient progression.
Part audio horror, part eulogy to Italian horror classics, Toby Jones’ very English sound engineer Gilderoy travels to Italy to work on a movie titled The Equestrian Vortex. He thinks he’s working with horses.
What Gilderoy’s work really entails on this project is the provision of all manner of horrific audio to unseen brutally on the studio screen.
And in Strickland’s tribute to the art of noise, it’s the non-visual slapping and splatting of melons and other fruit varieties that disturbs the most when the on screen goes unseen.
Sound is the clear sensual trip here, and when coupled with panning shots across Gilderoy’s descriptive sound flow charts, the never to be revealed visual seems all the more disturbing.
But in all this delicate art-house musing, the randomness of events and patient persistence, there’s a feeling of chaos and disorientation as Strickland’s attack on the senses confuses and detracts from clearly concluding what is going on as Jones patient man descends into apparent mental decline when slowly affected by the repetition of misogynistic events on screen within the claustrophobic bullying surroundings of the studio.
The cultural clashes of restrained Britishness versus Italian flamboyance add further to Gilderoy’s frustrations of entrapment.
As he loses his grasp on reality and fiction so does Director Strickland in a finale that is confusing and ill-fitting with the focused build seen throughout. It feels inconclusive and not as assured as all that has come before; perhaps purposefully, but in a film that needs to deliver for audience investment in going with Strickland’s vision, set out on his very own terms, such ambiguity frustrates.
Less critically, it may well be an end that pays greater audience respect than as what first appears given its vagueness as a reflection of the deteriorating mind or perhaps something else far more sinister.
As a sensual experience, Berberian Sound Studio is very special indeed – brilliantly artistic, but it’s also a perplexing and ambitious stretch too far for the senses.