Sound of Violence is an interesting companion piece to Sound of Metal, the Riz Ahmed-starring, Oscar-nominated drama about a drummer who suddenly loses his hearing, and not simply because the two movies have similar titles. Alex Noyer’s feature debut is also about a hearing-impaired protagonist finding the beauty in life in an increasingly dire situation. The difference is Ahmed’s character was on a spiritual journey of self-discovery, tempered by his addiction issues, while Sound of Violence’s antiheroine, Alexis, is convinced true art comes from the suffering of others.
Alexis lost her hearing as a young child, as opposed to being born deaf. However, after witnessing her father, who has severe PTSD after serving time in the military – to the extent his hands shake at the dinner table and he yells at his family constantly while barely being able to meet their eyes – brutally murdering her mother, and then killing him herself, Alexis has a gloriously colorful sonic experience that changes how she sees the world forever. As a young adult, however, Alexis begins chasing that initial high after her hearing problems reoccur, leading to more murder.
Synesthesia, which occurs when the senses cross over each other, is beautifully visualized in Sound of Violence with a striking, rainbow explosion bursting across the screen. Although it’s not entirely clear whether Alexis has been hurting people to try to replicate that initial experience her whole life – it’s hinted at briefly, via a story about the time she spent in an orphanage as a kid – the sensation is strong enough that we understand why she wants to replicate the feeling now. Alexis is terrified to lose her hearing again, but the loss might be inextricably linked to the pain she is doling out.
The deaths in Sound of Violence are drawn out and frequently sadistic. A sequence featuring torture by theremin is horrifyingly clever – especially when it leads to the victim tearing off his own skin, utilizing a brilliant piece of practical makeup FX. Alexis reasons that her victims aren’t dead, they’re “part of my music.” Creating her art requires recording people in pain so it tends to lead to horrible endings for all involved. She’s a bit like Jigsaw, if he was more interested in making noise than teaching lessons. Alexis has clearly been through a lot, but she’s not explicitly evil, just misguided.
It’s a meaty role for sure, with Jasmin Savoy Brown, who appears in the upcoming Scream redux, giving it everything she’s got and then some. She’s fully believable as both a sweet, shy professor’s assistant and a cold-blooded murderer but Noyer, who also penned the script, plays with our expectations of how far she’ll go consistently throughout the film. Meanwhile, the female cop trying to solve the murders (Tessa Munro) is dogged in her pursuit of a killer she can’t quite understand, and whose motives are foggier with the discovery of each new body.
Sound of Violence’s premise is strong and there are some striking visuals throughout, while the final moments are genuinely shocking, even for a seasoned horror fan. The only other deaf horror movie in recent memory was Hush which, although plenty entertaining, didn’t quite manage to put us in the shoes of a hearing-impaired protagonist. Noyer is more adept at creating an atmosphere where everything can go frighteningly silent at any moment. The sound design is impeccable, both in communicating how Alexis is feeling when her hearing suddenly drops out and in broadcasting her horrifying soundscapes – bloody fingers gooily plucking at strings are particularly revelatory.
Noyer’s film is inventive, challenging, and devious but by trying to shoehorn in a queer storyline right at the end before just as quickly tossing it out, in a bury your gays style toss to the side, Sound of Violence bites off a little more than it can chew. Alexis’s plight is compelling enough without making her an “other” only to do absolutely nothing with that information. Representation is hugely important and having a disabled protagonist/antagonist is a major step forward. Leaving it at that would’ve made the film sing a little sweeter of a tune. As it stands, though, Sound of Violence is an impressive debut through and through with a killer hook and plenty of stomach-churning moments.
WICKED RATING: 8/10