Acclaimed sound mixer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) has worked on plenty of different motion pictures, but "The Equestrian Vortex," an Argento-esque giallo
about witches in a girls' dormitory, is his first horror film. The year is 1976, and he has just made the plane trip over from England to labor on the project in Italy. It's a daunting undertaking, and not just because he seems to be sleeping at the studio and never venturing outside. Forced to contend with a domineering producer, Francesco (Cosimo Fusco); an ego-inflated director, Santini (Antonio Mancino), and an increasingly unhappy ADR actress, Silvia (Fatma Mohamed), Gilderoy slowly but surely begins to lose his grip on realityif, in fact, any of his waking moments are reality at all.
"Berberian Sound Studio" should be better than it is. Scarier. Thicker with dread. More involving. Instead, writer-director Peter Strickland takes a neat idea and then doesn't do all that much with it. There is the constant sense that the film is on the verge of taking off, of transcending to the next level, but each time, disappointingly, it pulls back at the last second. It's the ultimate teaseall suggestion, no real action. Toby Jones (2012's "The Hunger Games
") leads the way as talented technician and obvious mama's boy Gilderoy, receiving hand-written letters from his Mum as she updates him on the baby chicks they are raising back at home. Just as this news takes a turn for the worse, so does the film's ultimate fate. And then things start to get really
"Berberian Sound Studio" aims to cross David Lynch with Lucio Fulci, and, by the last third, it's a toss-up whether or not the mind-bending narrative is meant to be understood at all. With "The Equestrian Vortex" (save for opening credits) never seen, only heard, all violence remains an aural suggestion, replicated in the sound booths as the actors scream their lungs out and the chopping of watermelons is meant to stand in for the sound of bodies being stabbed and ripped apart. With the plot proper never venturing outside Berberian, the film has a naturally claustrophobic feel. What it doesn't have is forward momentum or tension. Writer-director Peter Strickland is on solid footing when he's simply depicting the ins and outs of post-production filmmaking, but if his intention was to leave viewers rattled and on edge, he's failed. "Berberian Sound Studio" is definitely a curiosity piece, but one gets the sneaking suspicion it wasn't also meant to be an inert one.