Sometimes it is very difficult for us to determine what constitutes a horror film. Does it have to be scary? Does it need a certain level of gore? Obviously different things are scary for different people, so how can we classify a film?
What matters the most is the gut feeling a viewer has when watching a particular movie. Humans are capable of detecting levels of malice or the creations of horror. There is no true way to define it and I believe that Berberian Sound Studio captures that point immensely.
The film revolves around a short, lonely fellow called Gilderoy (Toby Jones) who happens to be a top notch Foley artist. An Italian film company asks him to come to their studio to help produce a film called Equestrian Vortex. Gilderoy believes it is a movie about horses, which is in line with the educational movies he does at his home in the United Kingdom. The film turns out to be an Italian giallo film, with copious amounts of torture and blood. Gilderoy is deeply affected by working on this intense horror film and begins to clash with the creepy, albeit lively, Italian crew. As the film goes on, it seems like Gilderoy’s own reality begins to blur with the movie he is working on.
What is so unique about this movie is the foundation it sets for horror films and movie making. The viewer is privy to the artistry of the actor’s character and the amount of detail that goes into creating any genre of film. You truly feel like you are behind the scenes and know something no one else does. While Gilderoy is tinkering with every imaginable machine in the studio, you begin to feel as if the movie is one giant creation that is meant to be built upon at the end. The movie creates a sense of tension that builds throughout the film, but it doesn’t result in a dramatic or flashy ending.
As a viewer, you are more than likely going to hope the unstableness of Gilderoy will result in him blending the movie and his life together to the point that he ultimately snaps at the end. Berberian Sound Studio was never about flash, instead it wanted to delve into the horror of our own internal, isolated lives.
I believe humans are universally scared of some things and in the case of Berberian Sound Studio, that is isolation. As a viewer, you realize the horror of Gilderoy’s alienation and reliance on his own unique skill set to make him happy. While he loves being a Foley artist, he doesn’t love creating a torture film, which results in him hating the only skill that truly makes him whole.
At the end of the film, Gilderoy decides to give in to the constant torture and menace he sees in both the movie and crew. This nuanced and quiet splash of horror is the perfect amount for such a soft spoken and lonely man like Gilderoy. It isn’t a huge pay off, but it is one that left me satisfied.
Of course, many viewers are going to be disappointed with the lack of gore and shocking scares. If you are that kind of viewer, then you may not enjoy this film. I believe this movie allows you to explore what happens after the credits. You can create whatever horrid scenario you want, just as long as it is terrifying and horrific enough for you.
Some may even say that Berberian Sound Studio is so artistically detailed that it approaches the avant-garde. While it may be too rich for many viewers, it is important in its ability to create a sense of isolation and alienation. Amazingly, it is so detailed and rich, it almost isolates the viewer as much as the fictional film isolates Gilderoy. This is the kind of movie you will only really want to watch once. It feels important to view, but not necessarily exciting.
This isn’t your normal horror film, but I do believe it is horror nonetheless. Italian giallo films are said to be precursors of American slasher films. If you view this movie as a precursor to what the main character may or may not become, then I believe you will truly enjoy this film. Every great horror film has a solid foundation and Berberian Sound Studio speaks to the individual parts that create the whole. It may not be as fun as some horror films, but it feels necessary.
If you liked Berberian Sound Studio, you might also like Santa Sangre.