SOUND OF VIOLENCE **** USA / Finland 2021 Dir: Alex Noyer. 93 mins
Writer-director Alex Noyer’s feature debut is an expansion of his exceptional 2018 short Conductor and reaffirms him as a talent to watch. Told via voiceover narration, it opens in 2002, with young, deaf Alexis (Kamia Benge) struggling to understand the mental state of her PTSD-afflicted father, who quivers silently at the dinner table before finally snapping and bludgeoning her family to death with a meat hammer. She survives by carrying out an act of extreme violence herself, and the act has a miraculous effect on her hearing. As the narration notes ominously, “All I could think of is that I needed to feel it again”.
When the action shifts to present day, with Alexis now played by the charismatic Jasmin Savoy Brown, she is a student on the path to fulfilling her music teaching ambitions. Her hearing is also starting to falter, and she is compelled to resort to using brutal trauma as a solution. After recording an S&M session, and ignoring the masochist’s safe word in order to get what she needs, Alexis begins elaborate experimentation with sounds and racks up a body count in the process- starting (in a nod to The Driller Killer) by abducting and entrapping a test-subject homeless guy in an elaborately rigged mechanism that simultaneously creates musical beats.
Here we have a high concept spin on giallo / slasher territory, with a good cast (Lili Simmons is appealing, if under-used as Alexis’ roommate) and sterling, Argento-inspired cinematography by Daphne Qin Wu. The intricately staged murder scenes are rich with black humour: note the volunteer who sings the U.S. National Anthem while not overly perturbed by the electrodes fixed to his imminently exploding head. There is an outstanding, superbly executed art gallery sequence involving the horrifying fate of a harpist that exists in some beautifully grisly netherworld between the Saw movies and Argento at his most artful.
It’s not perfect: a dull sub-plot following some (deliberately?) banal cops joining the dots at successive crime scene intrudes, at the expense of spending more time with the compelling Alexis and the woman she not so secretly loves. In between gory set pieces, the pace sometimes lags. However, it’s still a stylish, inventive take on familiar territory – and the final beach-set sequence has a truly arresting image almost worthy of peak-era Cronenberg.
Review by Steven West