Review: SOUND OF VIOLENCE, Adding Notes to a Gory Symphony
Jasmin Savoy Brown, Lili Simmons and James Jagger star in a thriller, written and directed by Alex Noyer.
After surviving a horrible childhood tragedy that took the lives of her whole family, Alexis has been chasing down sounds that help her experience the phenomena called Synesthesia.
It is usually an involuntary experience in a second sense. Alexis sees spectacular splashes of vibrant color, but she can only experience it when someone suffers. Between her time as a music teacher and musician, she begins to collect clips and sounds that help her experience this sensation.
She and her roommate Marie start by recording an strange session of sound in someone's home. But Alexis needs more, bigger sounds, and soon embarks on her own quest to collect sounds that trigger her synesthesia. It is a race against time because her hearing is beginning to drop out unexpectedly and if she loses her hearing forever she may never have this experience again. We will see how far she is willing to go to complete her musical monster-piece.
A good reason to watch a horror film is for the kills. Writer/director Alex Noyer's Sound of Violence delivers, giving us what will be some of the most memorable kills of the year. Alexis' first kill gives a nod to Noyer's short film The Conductor which predates this film. Don't go back and watch it if you haven't yet, don't ruin it for yourself. Instead, wait until afterwards. We should also pause for a moment and mention we also see his inclusion of Noyer's first SXSW film, the doc 808.
We believe the kills are memorable, not because of originality, but we are going to hazard some guesses as to where the rest of the kills draw influences from. The sincerest form of flattery, are we right? Does the next kill draw from the psycho-techno horrors of David Cronenberg? Does the scene in the art gallery draw from the Giallo genre and the inclusion of the color red? When one sees a sledghammer and there are limbs nearby, there is no choice but to think of Misery. Then does SoV draw to a close with a tip of the hat to Shinya Tsukamoto? We have Noyer within earshot and could have asked him directly but it is also fun to guess where he draws his influences from.
We found it interesting that Noyer would include the Christian hymn "Amazing Grace", specifically the opening verse, "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found...". It stops short of the line about being blind and seeing again. Perhaps she sings to herself her own lyric about hearing again? Was deaf but now I hear? Noyer revisits the Christian hymn again, later in the film. As one of her victims would say, everybody knows "Amazing Grace". The choice of those lyrics seems intentional, of sound saving a wretch like her.
Alexis understands what she has to do to get the sounds that help her have those experiences again. The prologue and some discourse between her and Maria later in the film suggests that this was from an early age. Her synesthesia is such a rush, a cosmic burst. When light and color doesn't spill onto the screen it flares from the edges. Alexis' motivation is to complete her Opus, to add all the layers together to make one final movement, an orgasm of the senses. She must do this before she goes deaf again.
There is an imbalance that we have to address here. It's that everything outside of Alexis' quest for sounds and her relationship with Marie feel near to afterthoughts. You cannot have bodies lying around the city without piquing the interest of the authorities. So they start to investigate this strange string of events and murders, but their presence in SoV is merely perfunctory. The dialogue is basic prime time procedural, like when the lead detective Fuentes says at the end of their first scene, 'this isn't over yet'. Well, yeah. If it were over THEN... Likewise, there's also some cringy dialogue in the school scenes, as well.
The presence of the police serves as no real motivator to any character in the film, specifically Alexis, the one carrying out these deadly acts. Alexis has no idea that the cops are on to her. She simply continues on her merry way, adding layers to her gory symphony. We have here a layer of omniscient narrative that still doesn't make the connection even at the end of the movie. If it has any function at all, it might bring a little tension to a small number of viewers: 'Oh, I hope she does or doesn't get caught'. But it does nothing to accelerate the plot or cause Alexis to hurry her progress. It doesn't affect her. All it does is trip up the flow. These notes sound flat by comparison to the main story.
Both lead actresses, Jasmin Savoy Brown and Lili Simmons, are good in their roles. The relationship between Alexis and Marie has its own complications and they bring some believability to their dynamic. They are roommates and friends, though Alexis feels a little more strongly about Marie. The intrusion of Duke, played by James Jagger as the boy who gets in the way, is interesting and strangely charming. In all, the relationship between Alexis and Marie is done with care, so even the love interest part is not overwrought.
The only question that remains is, how much of that relationship is Alexis willing to give up to finish her grisly composition?
Review originally published during SXSW in March 2021. The film will be available via various Video On Demand services on Friday, May 21.