I’ve shared a bit of my struggle with having an auditory processing disorder on social media. Certain sounds and frequencies can make me meltdown. When people talk, I sometimes have to write out what I think they are saying on my palm or in a notebook to get the sounds to process faster. It’s not often I see this auditory-driven balancing act play out onscreen so, when I watched Alex Noyer‘s debut, SOUND OF VIOLENCE, it was difficult not to feel a part of myself reflected onscreen. The handling of the main character’s disability may read as hit or miss for some but, to this reviewer, it’s a step forward in terms of conveying the complexity of disabled characters onscreen. That said, while there are elements that work, overall, the execution and story development could have been better finessed for maximum impact.
The film follows Alexis (Jasmin Savoy Brown), a synesthetic music teacher who is always on the path to try to capture that euphoria that sound brings. As a formerly deaf individual, Alexis recovers her hearing after witnessing the brutal murder of her family as a child. The connection between the trauma of that violence and the awakening of her synesthesia takes a bit of a back seat, though, as the viewer is taken to the present day. After experiencing a loss of hearing one day, there is panic for the young woman. The ability to hear and experience the full breadth of stimulus from sound is now on the cusp of being taken away from her for good. This triggering event is the push Alexis needs to move forward with more heightened attempts at musical experimentation. However, these experiments come at a substantial price for her unwilling participants. Combining brutal torturous designs to maximum violence, the young woman has now embarked on a path of destruction as she aims to capture the euphoria she craves once last time.
There’s a lot going on in SOUND OF VIOLENCE that will pique the viewer’s interest. At the same time, however, there are elements of the story and, particularly, the character Alexis that would have assisted in enriching the story further. For example, Alexis’s synesthesia is a big element to the character that would have been fun to explore just a little bit further, especially given the association with the character’s obsession with sounds. The audience gets an idea based on the traumatic experience Alexis had as a child but, given the lack of visibility of this rare ability, it could have served as a way to inform the audience further. One other story element that weakened the plot altogether was the inclusion of the police chasing Alexis down. Compared to the rest of the film, the addition of the police subplot read as weaker than intended and, given Alexis’s sense of urgency to complete her experiments prior to her hearing disappearing completely, the sense of urgency the police plot might have provided was weakened further as a result.
That said, the development of the relationship between Alexis and her best friend and roommate, Marie (Lili Simmons), was written well. The characters of Alexia and Marie are clearly opposites, but the love between the two of them is seamlessly conveyed in the performances given by Brown and Simmons. This chemistry also serves as a symbolic tether for Alexis and the audience as well to bring us back to reality. Without that chemistry and relationship building between the two, certain plot points would have been less impactful. And, for such an inherently tragic story, the more impact there is for the viewer, the better. Both actors deserve major props for the work they’ve done to bring the audience in before shit hits the fan.
Now, these will be fighting words but Noyer, with the help of his team, came up with some pretty elaborate kills in SOUND OF VIOLENCE that might give the SAW franchise a run for its money. There’s so much gory, fucked up promise revealed in these particular death scenes onscreen that one might actually have to find Noyer and ask him if everything is okay. In terms of the scenes themselves, none of them read as exploitative or violent for violence’s sake. Each death serves a purpose, especially as the viewer begins to track Alexis’s psychological decline. Given Noyer’s previous documentary work focusing on the 808 drums, should he decide to pursue more horror in the future, definitely recommend looking at whether or not he’s been working on any other documentaries to fuel his blood-soaked creativity. Note, this is stated in a joking fashion.
Given the film’s subject matter and Noyer’s background with sound, it is no surprise that SOUND OF VIOLENCE‘s sound design and edits hit well. For the scenes where Alexis loses her hearing, the decision to remove sound entirely is an impactful immersive one. It immediately succeeds in bringing the viewer into Alexis’s world, creating an empathy that can be tapped into later on for the viewer as things escalate. With Alexis’s focus on music and the trigger of violence initiating those synesthetic instances, the horrific sound design developed to highlight the gruesomeness of what she is creating with each death becomes a much-needed tool. This tool is utilized to perfection, creating that underlying sense of tension required to make the audience further uncomfortable. Throw in the visual effects to introduce that visual array of color Alexis sees, and the recipe for full immersion is there. All in all, these particular elements in the film are a major selling point.
SOUND OF VIOLENCE showcases the unavoidable tragedy that possesses Alexis to make the decisions she makes in this film. Without context to the gap between her family’s devastating end and when the viewer meets adult Alexis, there will most likely be discourse surrounding the interpretation of Alexis’s reaction to losing her hearing again. I’d argue that this film is a tragedy and Alexis’s responses are the tragedy in all of this. This all said, as a feature debut, Alex Noyer makes ambitious choices. From the development of Alexis to plot development choices and the kills featured in the film, there are choices made that highlight the horrific promise in Noyer. With more finessing plot-side, color this reviewer intrigued as to what his mind will come up with next.
SOUND OF VIOLENCE will debut on cable and digital VOD tomorrow, May 21st from Gravitas Ventures.
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