Berberian Sound Studio

This would-be cerebral thriller shows us how to squeeze some black comedy from a dry Gothic culture shock, but not why we’d want to. It’s the bleak mid-’70s, and Toby Jones is a timid English sound mixer summoned to the cloisters of a seedy Italian movie studio, where he and a horror-exploitation film will be finishing each other off. From the get-go it’s clear this gig is not at all our man’s cup of tea, but he’s too meek to back out, or maybe there never was a way out. Bullied by an imperious producer (Cosimo Fusco) and a pretentious director (Antonio Mancino), credible milquetoast Jones can’t even get his travel expenses reimbursed. So he tucks in among the foley artists and their analog accessories, including piles of produce whose mutilations simulate the sounds of grievous bodily harm. Writer-director Peter Strickland keeps the familiar horror-flick brutality offscreen and therefore strictly allusive, preferring views of its absorption by a feeble protagonist going slowly mad under the flashing red “Silenzio” sign. Dwelling but not developing, Strickland proceeds stoically through many slow fades and loving glances at vintage audio gear, possibly hoping to chance upon the vital spark his too-effectively sepulchral movie lacks. Aurally, Berberian Sound Studio has a broad dynamic range. Dramatically, not so much.