I never want to fault a movie for being too ambitious for its own good; I really do love an overreaching mess. The low-budget sci-fi body horror Sound of Violence tests the limitations of that love, though. Maybe it’s because the film doesn’t trust the audience to keep up with its plentiful, competing ideas – explaining its basic premise & the definition of “synesthesia” twice, once in opening voiceover narration and once in a classroom lecture. Maybe it’s because some of those ideas are inherently more exciting than others (a killer drum machine vs. an unrequited romance between twentysomethings roommates). Maybe it’s because its budget can’t always match its imagination. Whatever the reason, Sound of Violence is overflowing with creativity & gusto that it can’t quite mold into something fully coherent or commendable. You have to squint past its flaws to appreciate what it’s going for, but it’s mostly worth the effort.
An experimental musician (Jasmin Savoy Brown) seeks self-therapy for her hearing loss and childhood PTSD by creating rhythmic beats out of the recorded sounds of violence, quickly turning her into a serial killer. That violence also triggers synesthesia, causing her to see cosmic swirls of CG colors. And she’s in love with her oblivious roommate. And the kills involve increasingly bizarre torture devices that double as musical instruments. And we spend some time with the cops on her trail. There’s a lot going on here once you get past the embarrassing cheese of the childhood prologue and opening narration. The only problem is that the Color Out of Space-style synesthesia swirls and the musical torture devices that trigger them are 1000x more interesting than any of the other narrative quirks competing for attention. When our trouble antihero is “composing” (i.e. rhythmically torturing victims to death in preposterous contraptions while effectively tripping balls) you feel as if you’d never seen anything like it before. The budget, premise, and runtime can’t sustain constant hyperviolence, though, so it loses its way filling in the sequences around them with tons of plot & character detail that you have seen before—many, many times over—and the whole picture suffers in that contrast.
Its budget is an obvious, constant limitation throughout, but Sound of Violence has Big Ideas that often push its already heightened premise into full-on delirium. It’s the kind of mixed bag that’s worth wincing through its momentary misfires, since the payoffs are so uniquely deranged. At its best, it’s a pure sensory horror, combining intense sound editing and mad-scientist visuals to completely overwhelm your sense of basic reality. At its worst, it feels like a pilot for a primetime CW soap about a hip, young serial killer’s unconventional way of processing #trauma (a hot topic on television these days). It begins and ends with its weakest moments, but there’s tons of wild shit in-between that you won’t find anywhere else – from a dominatrix-spanking drumbeat to a tender performance of “Amazing Grace” on a theremin. It’s glaringly imperfect, but it at least it’s playful & eager. There are plenty of films that are technically better made but don’t take any risks half this interesting.