Sound of Violence, 2021.
Written and directed by Alex Noyer.
Starring Jasmin Savoy Brown, Lili Simmons, James Jagger, and Tessa Munro.
A young girl recovers her hearing and gains synaesthetic abilities during the brutal murder of her family. Finding solace in the sounds of bodily harm, as an adult, she pursues a career in music composing her masterpiece through gruesome murders.
Horror films that present a killer traumatised by their own past of victimisation are nothing new, though Alex Noyer’s directorial debut Sound of Violence blasts it through a unique experiential prism – the phenomenon of synaesthesia. Despite the juicy hook, though, this surreal slasher flick lacks the psychological plausibility or tonal assurance to deliver on its clear promise.
At the age of 10, deaf girl Alexis regains her hearing after witnessing the brutal murder of her mother at the hands of her PTSD-afflicted father. The incident also stirred synaesthetic sensations in Alexis, which as an adult (Jasmin Savoy Brown) resonate whenever she experiences acts of extreme violence. And as her hearing begins to fade once more, Alexis finds herself enacting increasingly desperate acts of creative brutality in order to keep her most treasured of senses alive.
The gut-wrenching opening sequence, in which Alexis stumbles upon the sight of her father bludgeoning her mother to death after first sensing the loud, bassy thud of his strikes, sets a visceral tone from the outset. It suggests a film deeply concerned with how trauma can have long-lasting effects on the way a person comes to perceive the world, and the transformative potential of violence.
Yet that early intrigue soon enough slides away as Sound of Violence collides superficial, self-serious drama with exploitation-style murder set-pieces. The end result is a film which persuades neither as a character piece about trauma nor a grisly slice of gonzo froth, despite clumsily attempting to juggle both.
The wheels truly begin to fall off once Alexis kills her first victim in the second act, hooking a homeless man up to a ridiculous torture contraption controlled by her own beat pads. It goes from serious to silly in record time, Alexis largely constructing her elaborate death traps off-screen, while the blood-letting is more often unintentionally comical than disturbing.
There are two sequences later on which very nearly achieve the right synthesis of black humour and imaginative gnarliness – a nutty murder set inside a recording booth and an inspired gore-piece involving a harp – though it’s tough to recommend the film on the basis of two brief, mildly creative scenes. Moreover, Noyer ends up escalating these showy sequences as he bounds towards his finale, the body horror outcome of which is more likely to rouse titters than slacked jaws.
Beyond all this, there’s the basic problem that Alexis’ descent from affliction to infliction doesn’t feel remotely earned or justified. Pic is also guilty of hurling in some relatively lousy LGBT representation, per Alexis’ dangerous possessiveness of her best friend and love interest Marie (Lili Simmons), complete with a wholly tacked-on payoff. Then there’s a woefully generic subplot following the police as they pursue Alexis’ growing pile of corpses, which is so totally unnecessary as to feel like it was hurriedly filmed late in production to pad the runtime out.
What keeps Sound of Violence from being any worse is the game effort of lead actress Jasmin Savoy Brown, who certainly tries to wring every ounce of anguish from Alexis, even if the script doesn’t give her nearly enough to tease out. It also doesn’t help that so much of the dialogue is either expository or awkwardly ham-handed, unaided by a few less-than-stellar supporting performances. Shoutout to classic “that guy” character actor Brian Huskey, though, who briefly lights up the room as Alexis’ music teacher Mr. Bell, though doesn’t get nearly enough to do.
There’s a small but evocative subgenre of horror films concerned with the relationship between sound and violence – namely Berberian Sound Studio and last year’s Argentine horror The Intruder – yet despite a few slivers of fittingly crunchy sound design during kill sequences, there’s very little here that makes much of an effort to convey Alexis’ mindset. The depiction of synaesthesia, for instance, never amounts to much more than some generic, digital coloured hues you could find in any off-the-shelf visual effects suite.
It’s easy to see what Noyer was going for and there are absolutely some interesting kernels throughout, but it ultimately doesn’t feel remotely fully-formed – a rough draft that’s still a few away from realising its full potential. Braced uneasily between serious drama and exploitation schlock, this sensory horror mostly squanders its gamy potential with a tonally skittish execution.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.