Written & Directed by Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Antonio Mancino, Guido Adorni
A sound engineer’s work for an Italian horror studio becomes a terrifying case of life imitating art.
Before you even get started, I should warn you this feels more like a horror film for horror critics than just fans. It works out well that I’m both, but it’s easy to see why some people are everything from confused to indifferent.
A British sound engineer with an old school approach to recording techniques is hand-picked to perform his craft on an up and coming art-horror film. Jones is amazing at portraying the proper English gentleman that finds himself out of his comfort zone both professionally and personally. Gilderoy (Jones) brings his unique skills to an Italian horror studio, a place that makes the viewer ponder how far the film and the reality are apart. Complete with the sleazy and meticulous director, this film within a film paints it’s thick, black borders from the opening scenes.
The film focuses on the minute with an attention to detail. Filled with shot after shot of scenes involving the reel, the scene, and the take, Berberian forces the viewer into life within the studio only. The actresses and techs come and go, cramming us into the dark corners as it progresses. Gilderoy is a good man when he arrives. It’s up to you to decide if he is when he leaves – if he leaves. Forced into close quarters with a smarmy Italian director, Gilderoy quickly finds himself out of his element and into a place that requires a forcefulness his uncalloused British hand isn’t used to.
The takes are laborious, forcing the viewer to endure the same scream-filled takes time and time again. Filled with enough watermelon and heads of lettuce to appease the headiest of Phish tour vegans, we learn how many ways you can drive a knife into fruit for maximum effect. Can we fault the film within the film when it has lines like “The dangerously aroused goblin prowls the dormitory..and tries in vain to molest Teresa who makes a swift retreat.” Probably not.
When all is said and done, it’s up to us to decide where this film was headed. I think this is truly a case of life imitating art as we watch an uptight, kind man progress (or digress) to the darkest reaches of his foreign setting. This is a slow burn to be certain, but it’s a rather enjoyable ride to the ambiguous end. Watch this and judge for yourself; is the kinder, gentler Gilderoy absorbed by his atmosphere? Serberian Sound Studio is a fantastic love letter to an era gone by.