Speaking solely on technical terms alone, Berberian Sound Studio is a masterpiece. Director Peter Strickland constructs the movie expertly, replicating all the perfect cues, angles and shots in perfect sync with the giallo subgenre, effectively twisting tropes to make the mundane seem maddening. Cinematographer Nicholas Knowland, editor Chris Dickens and music supervisor Phil Canning are owed a ton of credit as well, as their understanding of the genre’s commodities accentuate every moment of dry humor and even lend a substantial amount of credence to indicate this film as being one of the best neo-giallo entries since 2009’s Amer. Strickland’s bitingly reflexive script also benefits from being incredibly humorous, offering the inside baseball of post-production through the now-known pressures of old school Italian filmmaking and portraying the over-the-top nature of the giallo subgenre to an absolutely perfect measure.
Strickland also pulls in mesmerizing performances from the cast, all of whom play within the endlessly ill-conceived film-within-a-film with immaculate seriousness. Toby Jones exudes excellence as the soft-spoken British sound mixer, slowly losing his mind amongst the frustration and hypocrisies of the surrounding filmmakers, but Jones plays the role so deadpan and gullibly sheepish that you can’t help but laugh as he devotes his sanity towards the outrageous sound mixing of horrific witch torture and genital mutilation. Antonio Mancino, Cosimo Fusco and Tonia Sotiropoulou all give great performances as well, playing the eccentric director, the short-fused producer and the conflicted star of the film, respectively. The three co-leads exhibit their comedic prowess with expert timing and straight faces, helping lend the atmosphere of constriction to Jones’s situation in the film. Compound on bizarre yet dedicated depictions of foley artists, voice actors and paper-pushers that lend itself to the ‘stranger-in-a-strange-land’ motif that repeats much within the giallo subgenre, Berberian Sound Studio becomes satire at its most indulgent.
Psychologically speaking, the film is somewhat difficult to fully analyze, as Strickland seems uninterested in telling the story of the studio itself but rather focuses on Jones. We learn so little about Jones from dialogue that most of the assumptions made from his characters are given through silent action, and yet the passive nature of the character keeps Jones from becoming empathetic. It’s unclear whether Strickland and Jones intended the character to remain to distant from the audience, as the most recognizable mainstay of the giallo picture is voyeurism, which, when not present, is an aspect too glaring to be ignored. So when void of a psychological profile that they can identify with, the audience is forced to align themselves with objectivity, which works against the effectiveness of the final product.
And even if Berberian Sound Studio does play a little bit too long, especially in the third act when the awkward pacing does not compliment the shift from painful satire to a respectful homage, such criticism is a nitpick in an otherwise uproarious, infectiously enjoyable love letter to everything giallo. Jones and the rest of the cast deliver in their memorable roles, and the film is aesthetically extraordinary as pure visual consumption. I doubt Berberian Sound Studio will get ever reach a wide audience, but if you have the chance to see the film, I would highly recommend you do so. For the uninitiated, Berberian Sound Studio is a hilarious, fresh take on the horror of making of horror movies, but for seasoned fans of Italian horror, it’s nothing short of magnificent.