In one of the cheapest, sleaziest post-production studios in Italy, a shy and nondescript sound engineer from the UK is hired to mix the latest giallo film by a horror maestro and soon finds himself caught up in a forbidding world of bitter actors, capricious foley artists and confounding bureaucracy.
It’s the early 1970s, and sheltered and unworldly sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) flees the safety of his mother’s house in Dorking, Surrey, to work on a gory horror film in Italy. He finds himself buried deep in a bunker-like recording studio, surrounded by screaming actresses, megalomaniac filmmakers, and sound technicians hacking away at watermelons to recreate the slicing of knives through flesh. Day after tiring day, he finds himself losing his grip on reality, unsure of what the film he’s working on is about, and whether he’ll ever have his expenses reimbursed and be allowed to escape.
British writer and director Peter Strickland has created an imaginative and delightfully quirky psychological suspense story, but it is one that ultimately disappoints. Jones gives a sympathetic performance as the sound engineer hopelessly out of his depth and literally lost in translation. The low-budget film is a cinephile’s dream, labouring over atmospheric shots of recording apparatus and Munch-like screams in the studio’s sound-booth. We never actually see the film that is being worked upon, instead gleaming an idea from snippets of dialogue, storyboards and the endless, grotesque sound effects that Gilderoy is called upon to produce (‘hair being ripped from witch’s scalp’, ‘red hot poker inserted into vagina’).
However, having set up such a novel, claustrophobic and nightmare-ish scenario, Strickland is unable to bring it to a satisfying climax. Is Gilderoy going mad? Is he in hell? Will his ordeal ever end? An abrupt ending leaves such questions unanswered. Unfortunately, although only 90 minutes long, it’s also difficult to escape the feeling that what could have made a great 60-minute short has been stretched well beyond its necessary length.