In what has been dubbed as the “golden age of horror”, we have seen the genre pushed to new limits, upping the scares, the talent, and perhaps most importantly, the thematic intent. Horror has always been a genre deserving of far more love and respect than its gotten and in recent years, that love has grown and flourished into critical acclaim, scholarly respect, and serious awards contenders.
The kind of stuff that just didn’t really happen all too often before the 2010s with films like Get Out, Hereditary, The Witch, The Invisible Man, and The Babadook going from low-budget crowd pleasers to ranking among the most loved and lauded of the past decade. What ties all of these very different films together is the single goal to push the envelope, delivering truly terrifying movies with a purpose beyond the thrill of a good scare. To not only make your audience jump, but hopefully leave them with something to think about when the credits roll. To paraphrase the late Roger Ebert, it’s not what a film is about, but how it’s about it.
And that’s where Alex Noyer’s SXSW 2021 Midnighter Sound of Violence comes in. Carrying the sort of bizarre, high-concept premise that calls to mind Leigh Whannel’s Upgrade, this film, rather than feeling inventive and scary, just leaves you a bit befuddled and uncomfortable.
Sound of Violence follows a young girl named Alexis who develops synesthetic abilities following the brutal murder of her mother, in which she bludgeons the culprit to death and smiles about it. Any sort of nuanced or intelligent commentary on trauma or violence is immediately thrown out the window, valuing cheap shock factors instead. When the film jumps ahead to a college-aged Alexis, her love of the sound of violence has only increased, with her now seeking to create the ultimate symphony of screams, crunching bones, and torn flesh.
These gruesome sounds manifest in bright visuals, resembling something perhaps beautiful, in juxtaposition with the terrible murders she commits. It’s an intriguingly gross premise, sure to catch the eye of horror fans (such as myself, I should add), but the film never quite makes good on its premise, both in its scares and thematic ambitions. The latter never goes further than “something something, hurt people hurt people” and the kills are laughably weird at best and morally cruel at worst.
Pushing the envelope is essential to truly genius, subversive horror, but you can’t push and pull back on a scene to scene basis, establishing rules and morals, only to break them immediately. We’re meant to feel bad for Alexis and wonder about the internal conflict she begins to feel as she composes her violent symphony, only for the very next murder of a poor, unsuspecting person to be played with tongue-in-cheek aplomb as if we aren’t witnessing something truly cruel. It’s Saw one moment, Evil Dead II the next, only without the commitment to the respective ideas those films had.
Sound of Violence’s singular grace note is Jasmin Savoy Brown, who makes a one-note, morally reprehensible character into one that is at least interesting to watch. She adds depth where there is otherwise very little and clearly has a blast when Alexis is at her most frightening. It makes you wish for a movie more deserving of her clear talent and dedication to what this one is trying to be.
I really wish I had nicer things to say about this film. It’s clear that everyone involved wanted to make a balls-to-the-wall slasher flick with a weird premise and dark humor, but by the time the film has reached its final (and most ridiculous) kill, there’s a sense of exhaustion. Sitting through gross-out torture sequences that don’t deliver scares so much as they do pity on the victims.
Sound of Violence hits all the wrong notes, ultimately mistaking cruelty for cool, with little in the way of thematic depth.