Berberian Sound Studio focuses on the character of Gilderoy, played by Toby Jones, a quiet but skilled Foley artist who leaves his comfortable world of English nature films and goes to work on an Italian horror picture called The Equestrian Vortex.
Gilderory’s unassuming demeanour clashes with the exuberant and passionate style of the giallo filmmakers, and he soon finds himself trapped in an environment to which, we believe, he does not belong.
Berberian is the second feature film by British director Peter Strickland, and he demonstrates his skill by effortlessly manipulating the sensory experience of the viewer. By choosing not to show the film-within-a-film that Gilderoy is working on, Strickland affords us the opportunity to step behind the screen and examine the psychological effect of producing extreme cinematic gore.
Close up shots of smashed fruit and vegetables take on a surprisingly sinister side when shown with the sound of ear-piercing screams. As the film progresses, Gilderoy struggles to hold on to his connection with home and eventually attempts to adapt to the intense atmosphere of the studio.
But this is not a straightforward descent into madness cut from a familiar horror cloth; instead Strickland plays with the audience’s perceptions by manipulating the sound of the film in much the same way as Gilderoy does with The Equestrian Vortex. Elsewhere, unnerving and seamless transitions from the studio to Gilderoy’s bedroom play hell with the audience’s grasp of what is real.
In the end the picture concludes its meta-narrative with a conspicuous lack of visual violence that leaves the audience with a refreshingly interesting plot to turn over in their heads.