FrightFest (2021): Sound of Violence

Directed by:
Written by:

Directed by Alex Noyer

Short films rarely stay with me years later. However, in 2018, the HorrorCultFilms team was blown away by Alex Noyer’s superb seven-minute assault on the senses, Conductor. Based around an unexpectedly nasty drum machine contest in a shopping mall, it introduced us to Alexis: a ray of sunshine who understands “the language” of beats and feels the music with her whole body. Three years on, both Alex and his creation Alexis are back with a feature-length follow-up: Sound of Violence.

The concept is relatively similar. Alexis, this time played by Jasmin Savoy Brown, lost her hearing as a child then recovered it following a traumatic family memory. This moment awoke intense synaesthesia in her – when individuals experience one of their senses through another. So, for example, tasting a shape or feeling a sound. Years later, she’s pursuing a career in teaching and making music and experimenting with some pretty out there sounds: a dominatrix whipping her partner to the point of drawing blood. It’s not quite working out for her and, on learning that she may lose her hearing again soon, she knows she may not be able to do this much longer. One night, she accidentally pushes a sexual harasser in front of a moving vehicle – the collision resulting in an explosion of sounds and feelings. From there, it’s a steady escalation of increasingly gory kills to create her masterpiece. Well, it’s been said that creating great art needs suffering…

As you’d hope from the premise, the audio design is dead good. The moments when Alexis can’t hear, which go between dull vibrations and full-on audio, are well done and catharsis to the bits where makes her music. On that point, at first, I found the score distracting, wanting it to only be natural, though its often ethereal soundscapes make the experience all the more immersive. We hear what Alexis hears in her head. It isn’t only the audio that does this – the Gialloeque bursts of warm, colourful clouds are hypnotic and an exciting way of visualising what she’s feeling. Anyone wondering if they can actually portray something phenomenological onscreen – take note. The kills are cool, too: unapologetically violent and reasonably original. Sure, one person doing all of the necessary sound engineering stretches credibility – though they’re weaved into her story so well I don’t want to nitpick. The focus on Alexis’ emotional journey rather than the money shots also shows a lot of restraint on Noyer’s part: we dehumanise them as she does, seeing them as expendable instruments to be played. That isn’t to say they’re not violent – the clue’s in the title. Heck there’s one disturbing sequence towards the end, an especially striking image, I can’t stop thinking about – Noyer’s topped the drum machine. Note-perfect.

There are some clumsy plot beats, though: an extreme action isn’t mined for its dramatic potential, and her deafness coming and going with triggers is at times an inelegant plot device. There are also a handful of police procedural scenes that seem unnecessary, more resembling something from TV. These bits seem rushed, with the detectives essentially acting as hype people – reminding us how ace the kill we just watched was. They also interfere with the intimacy of the film, which works best as a perspective piece, and have almost no real impact on its story. Frankly, with minor changes to the script elsewhere, I think they could easily have been lifted entirely and it would not be to the film’s detriment. Doing so may also have freed up some time in the busy second act to explore the character relationships more – prioritising personal stakes over the more cliched attempts at suspense. Regardless, they don’t take up too much time and the ending itself is one of the best things I’ve seen all year.

The story mostly worked for me because of how much I cared about Alexis. She’s not sympathetic, but she’s still someone I think viewers will easily empathise with. Brown does a commendable performance that meant I was with her for both her highs and lows – seeing her dance, so at peace, you want her to stay this way. It goes without saying that her quest for the perfect soundtrack is wrong, but damn did I want her to complete it. Scenes where we see her awkwardly showing one of her creations – one being a heavy industrial synth tune built around screams and stabs – are endearing, and I liked them way more than her confused peers (Noyer, please, please make Alexis’ album next). Yes, it’d be best if she walked away from the whole thing – but when she’s a few kills in it’d be a shame not to finish.

It’s rare enough to have a queer woman of colour as a horror protagonist, but making her this conflicting is downright radical. On that, the sexual tension between her and her clueless flatmate Marie, who fondly regards Alexis as her “little weirdo” is engaging if underdeveloped. As per her genuinely horrific personal history, their scenes together humanise our anti-hero – giving the movie that vital heartbeat. Horror has a tradition of focusing on young women who are outsiders, like in Carrie, May, or Raw, and Alexis is no exception. In a way, I’d rather not see her again, as the finale is that good, but if Noyer brings her back for a curtain call I’ll be among those clapping.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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About david.s.smith 451 Articles
Scottish horror fan who is simultaneously elitist and hates genre snobbery. Follow me on @horrorinatweet

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