The Sound of Violence, from writer/director Alex Noyer, debuted at the 2021 South by Southwest Film Festival’s Midnighter showcase. It’s a booming and colorful horror film, following an unhinged DJ. With that kind of logline, you’ll understand that when it allows itself to relish in brutality, it’s great fun. When it’s not doing that, it’s left feeling a bit insecure.
As a little girl, Alexis (played by Kamia Benge, then as an adult by The Leftovers’ Jasmin Savoy Brown) loses her hearing from an accident. But after discovering her father beating her mother to death, Alexis kills the man with a meat tenderizer and develops synesthesia from the act. The experience is so beautiful, her trauma and joy fuse together and she needs to feel it again. In her adult years, she finds a way to do just that, with a cacophony of violence and murder that gives her intense and colorful moments of ecstasy, for Alexis and the audience alike.
Where The Sound of Violence utterly thrives is in its visuals and the way it plays with audio. A gorgeously shot ode to color and sound design, we experience the sensory wonders along with Alexis, all pinks and blues and heartbeats. Periodically, the sound dips out as Alexis, who has gotten her hearing back, re-experiences bouts of deafness. That’s where the film’s emphasis on childhood trauma sets in, as Alexis gets these physical ramifications as a result of reminders of her troubled childhood. With bumping bass layering in quietly, the film utilizes sound-based jump scares in a way that feels earned, not cheap. The Sound of Violence does a tremendous job eliciting the sound of trauma. Those silent moments bring with them an overpowering pressure sound, like the hearing is being sucked out of us as viewers.
For a film that succeeds so well in many ways, some choices are questionable—thank heavens we lingered on the music store door slowly closing, lest we spend the rest of the film wondering if it had, in fact, closed—and the at times laughable dialogue would be better suited in a less well-made film that took itself not as seriously. The actors do well with it, but a little too well, like an uncanny valley of acting. They’re giving excellent performances, but saying lines no human would. Their good performances only serve to make the poorer moments of dialogue feel even weaker. (Also, aren’t we past the point of giving our murder ladies a repressed queerness?)
Is Alexis a cold-blooded killer reveling in her desires, or is she scared and unsure of her needs? Is it a secret she needs to keep, or something she blissfully wants to share with the world only to be ashamed by their disgust? Is she a musical Jigsaw, or just a really enthusiastic DJ? Is it about the music or the violence? The film isn’t quite sure most of the time. The Sound of Violence exists in both spaces in a way that never quite melds, but that in its own way provides the film a certain discordance, one that works well enough in scenes where Alexis gives into her synesthetic pleasure-rage and becomes DJ Jazzy Kills-a-Guy.
That’s where lead Savoy Brown gets to truly shine and when the film is at its best—just pumping beats and beating dudes. I mean, a midnight movie where a man with bleeding eyes rips his arm flesh off while a producer jams to the sound of his screams till his head explodes the moment she hits orgasmic glee? That’s a great movie, one we rarely get to see with a female lead, particularly a female lead of color. The film’s uncertainty is clearest in its powerful and surprising ending. Alex experiences myriad emotions and sensations, but by no means fluidly, more as a pure dissonance, like an iPod on shuffle. This makes sense conceptionally within the movie far more than it does as a film-watching experience.
As a visually stunning murder spree, The Sound of Violence thrives. As a violent meditation on trauma, less so.
But a guy’s head explodes—so who cares?
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