Squeamish British sound engineer Toby Jones arrives in Italy to work on a movie called The Equestrian Vortex, not realizing it’s an extra-bloody horror film. Supposedly he was hired because the film’s director Santini holds him in high regard, but nobody else in the studio could care less, and his requests meet with blank stares and insults, as over the weeks of work he gets more shaken by the company and his work stabbing and snapping vegetables as torture-foley.
Like the 1970’s and 80’s Italian horrors Berberian claims to be recreating (we never see a scrap of footage from the film-in-a-film except its opening titles), this movie cares much more about atmosphere than anything else, and does a great job creating that through image and sound. With Jones playing a foley artist and sound recorder, they knew we’d be paying close attention to the soundtrack, and it’s wonderful. But while the Argento and Fulci movies have overstuffed but ultimately empty stories submerged in their gothic atmosphere, this one mostly dispenses with story and lets its atmosphere do all the talking. In fact, they seem to have forgotten to give the movie an ending. It has a neat build-up, as Toby’s letters from home bleed into his work, a story of a birdnest rampage paralleled in the inner film’s carnage and in editing-room chaos after a wronged actress takes out her frustration upon the audiotapes, but then it peters out after that.
Very nice touch that sound equipment is activated by a black gloved hand in close-up. Shot by Nic Knowland (Institute Benjamenta, Piano Tuner of Earthquakes). I must find Strickland’s earlier feature, a Romanian revenge drama.