Writer and director Alex Noyer expands upon the world set out in his short film Conductor, for debut feature, Sound of Violence. The short saw a music contest in a shopping mall take a rather nasty turn, and whilst it retains the same levels of gore, Sound of Violence is a much more sophisticated affair. With Sound of Violence, Noyer explores the phenomena of synesthesia, filtering it through the horror genre. Synesthesia is a condition in which the subject’s senses become merged, resulting in the ability to experience the world in different ways. For example, some can feel colours, others can taste shapes, and some, like the protagonist in Sound of Violence, can see sound.
Starting in 2002, Sound of Violence introduces us to a little girl, Alexis, and her family. Things have been tough for the family; Alexis’ father has just returned from the war and is suffering heavily with PTSD, and Alexis herself is struggling to adjust to life without being able to hear. In the wake of an awkward dinner, events take a brutal turn, and through a vicious act of violence, Alexis’ hearing is returned with the added ability to see certain sounds. As film openings go this instantly catches the viewer’s attention. The soundscape flits in and out between what Alexis is capable of hearing and the terse environment in which her family exists. By building in this way, Noyer enables the impact of Alexis’ first aural vision to hit the viewer like a ton of bricks. After a prolonged period of silence and muffled sounds, the noise is so loud and wicked that it is an assault to the senses. With such an onus on the audio, it’s important that Sound of Violence is audibly effective, and fortunately it’s stunning. Given the current climate of film festivals, most will watch this for the first time at home, and I highly recommend watching with headphones so that you don’t miss a single sound.
Our story then moves into the present day. Alexis is now fully grown and works as a sound engineer. Obsessed with music, she spends her time creating her aural masterpiece, and hanging out with roommate Marie; life is pretty great. This situation changes after an incident, which results in the news that her hearing might be slipping away once more. With this sudden and unexpected deadline imposed upon her, Alexis resorts to extreme lengths to finish her life’s work. As with the opening, the bulk of the first half of the film is spent getting into Alexis’ headspace. The sound on screen is filtered through Alexis’ ears, dipping in and out as her hearing goes on the fritz. This technique enables the viewer to be fully immersed into her world, allowing us to focus solely on her and puts us into an uncomfortable position when the nature of the source of her music is unveiled.
Later on, as the film progresses, Noyer broadens the film out into the wider circle of characters, moving us from the inside looking out, to the outside looking in. It’s a very interesting narrative tactic, presenting the audience with two conflicting perspectives and letting them decide just who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist. It’s a similar methodology to that glimpsed in American Psycho, the Saw franchise, and even Netflix TV show, You, and is one that serves to draw the watcher ever further in.
American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman and Saw’s John Kramer have become iconic thanks to the hard work of the actors (Christian Bale and Tobin Bell respectively) playing them. Were their performances to be too hammy and over-the-top, the films and characters would feel silly and we’d have forgotten all about them by now. As Alexis, Jasmin Savoy Brown puts in a strong and sympathetic performance, taking a page out of the Bale and Bell handbook and reining her character in when necessary, and only unleashing her full potential towards the end. Lili Simmons also deserves plaudits for her turn as Marie, the oblivious housemate and best friend. Since her turn as Rebecca in television series Banshee, Simmons has forged a varied and interesting career. She’s clearly not afraid of a challenge and her involvement in Alexis’ endgame is pure nightmare fuel.
Playing out within the rules of a genre film, there is a strong need for suspension of disbelief to fully commit to some of the aspects of the story. Alexis’ process of capturing her ‘music’ appears to be lifted straight out of the John Kramer handbook, and is so malicious and dastardly that it over stretches the realms of plausibility. Her work isn’t subtle and the naivety of those around her feels a little contrived. These issues don’t however, impact on the enjoyment, rather they help put some distance in from reality and by doing so grant the viewer permission to be entertained by some truly macabre moments.
A viscerally violent film, Sound of Violence channels its inner Saw movie, creating some very effective, and stomach-churning gore pieces. Noyer pairs the ick-factor with a riveting character study that draws comparisons to some of the best movie psychos in history.
A blisteringly violent, but exceptionally absorbing film, that far outclasses its source. You’ll need a strong stomach, and set of ears, to make it through Sound of Violence intact.
Sound of Violence is available to own now.
This review first appeared on THN.