Sound Of Violence
Directed by Alex Noyer
Warning: This one has a fair amount of spoilers.
Screening at FrightFest yesterday, Sound Of Violence is a quite brilliant feature debut from writer/director Alex Noyer. In fact, I’d almost say it’s one of those near perfect movies but I had a couple of little issues with it, which I’ll get to in just a little while.
As the story starts we hear main character Alexis, played by Jasmin Savoy Brown, explaining to the audience about her current, sometimes synaesthetic response to music/sound (where she sees colours thrown up by the sound etc) and she starts off telling us an incident in her childhood, when she was a little girl back in 2002. She was deaf, lost her hearing at an early age and she can just about hear the odd vibration from sound if it’s turned up. We are then taken into a very awkward, family reunion scene where her traumatised combat veteran father has returned home. Later that night, she feels some percussive vibrations coming up through the floor of her upstairs room and goes downstairs to investigate. He father has killed her mother and brother and is currently cutting up her mother with a meat cleaver, making these sounds. The young girl starts seeing the colours thrown up from the sound vibrations for the first time and, when she takes a meat tenderiser to her father’s head, two things happen... her world explodes into a synaesthetic response to that sound and she suddenly has her hearing back.
Jump to the present day and Alexix is a music student/stand-in lecturer experimenting with sound to try and capture the synaesthetic hits, focusing on pain as something which can be recorded and manipulated into something more artistic. However, she’s also sometimes losing her hearing again briefly and in a desperate effort to discover the cause and cure of her condition, she descends into a series of ‘experiments’ where she tortures and kills people in various ways, recording them to try and capture the synaesthetic responses she gets from these acts of violence.
That’s probably all I should reveal about the story because, a) I don’t want to spoil it too much and b) I probably wouldn’t do justice to the abstract, obsessional motivations of the main character (let alone completely understand them myself, which I think is probably okay, actually).
First of all, the acting in this is great. Brown plays the central protagonist/antagonist in a fairly naturalistic way and she has good chemistry with her best friend and room mate (and potential lover) Marie, played by Lili Simmons (who was in the first season of the TV version of The Purge, reviewed here). We know Alexis has a gift for music due to her early childhood trauma and there’s a wonderful scene where she goes into a shop to try out a theremin and can play it straight away (which means, I believe, that the character has perfect pitch... those things aren’t all that easy to play). The other characters are a little sketchier in the way they’re drawn but that’s because you are given all you need to know to make the story work and the actors do their jobs well. Tessa Munro does some very good work as the police inspector who is constantly one step behind Alexis’ murders... as does James Jagger, as Marie’s current boyfriend.
There are also some nice set pieces in the film. A scene where she drugs and then ties up a tramp to a special torture chair she’s constructed to maim and kill him while recording the sounds of his death is a novel idea (at least in cinema, I guess... and an early prototype of this notion which made it into cinema might be the orgasm/death machine in Barbarella). And a dream sequence involving a guy being run over, juxtaposed by the explosion of colour from his death, is a pretty effective scene.
Another interesting moment comes where she hooks up a vocalist with some electrodes plugged into her theremin and overloads him with the sounds until his head explodes. So, yeah, death by theremin is a first in a movie for me, at any rate and, since it’s my favourite musical instrument, I was happy to see this in here.
My favourite scene is where Alexis and Marie go to record the sounds of a dominatrix whipping and flogging her sub with a number of different impact play instruments. Alexis is trying to push the domme to go further but she won’t go past the limits of her sub. I liked this sequence, not because it’s the first real clue we get to the grown up version of Alexis’ obsession to go beyond past the limits of safety but because the practice of BDSM by two professional players - a top and a bottom - is shown to be a safe, sane environment based on sexual preferences and professionalism, not something which is even hinted at as being somehow unhealthy or approaching the bizarre stigma that people who don’t practice that kind of lifestyle seem to want to push onto people they don’t understand. So big applause to the director for pushing that agenda here. He has my undying respect.
However, I did have two slight problems with the movie which I’ll just note here. One is that, Alexis just keeps leaving both the dead bodies and her easily trackable machinery around after the murders. She barely even goes through the motions of trying to hide her gruesome crimes/experiments and, while I appreciate the character is supposed to be somewhat deranged and a little insular, this just seemed beyond stupid to me.
The other thing I had troubles with was the final murder set piece. I don’t want to say what that is but much importance is made of this sequence due to its longevity and focus so you’ll know it when you see it. However, it just felt like a really tame moment in comparison to some of the other murders we’d seen. I’m sure it sounded really grotesque and bleak on paper but, I just don’t think the final practical effect was managed in a way which highlighted the intent... it just felt a bit lightweight of a thing to be happening in what is the final scene of the movie. I didn’t feel like it was something which made good on the promise of the set up.
That being said though, these are perhaps minor points and I really liked Sound Of Violence. It’s a little different to some of the things I’ve seen done (at least in a motion picture format), it’s well acted, well shot and has an appropriately meticulous sound design which helps provide the right tone on some of the scenes. I had a lot of fun with this one and I’ll be first in line for the Blu Ray if we are lucky enough to get the film released in this format. This is definitely one to take a look at.