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SXSW 2021: Sound of Violence Is Violent, Inventive, and a Tonal Mess

Alex Noyer’s feature directorial debut struggles to find a foundation to build it’s nasty, creative torture devices.

Featuring intense, memorable gore that never strays from veering into the absurd, Sound of Violence is a mesmerizing showpiece of torture devices concocted by an experimental musician looking to satisfy her lust for violence all in the name of creating a masterpiece. Alex Noyer’s feature debut struggles to find much to admire outside of its inventive deaths, verging on being a great piece of schlock entertainment but always weighing itself down with a self-seriousness that feels unintentionally hokey. Trapped in by-the-numbers plotting and anchored by a frustratingly standard psychopathic lead character, Sound of Violence consistently undercuts its entertainment value with a screenplay intending to be more potent than it ends up being.

When Alexis (Jasmin Savoy Brown) recovers her hearing after witnessing the brutal murder of her family, she becomes obsessed with the feeling that it provided. While she has not killed others, she seeks out the fringes of society to find people who are okay with having pain inflicted as she tries to find that feeling again. It goes without saying that her bloodlust eventually gets out of hand and a psychopath is born – one who happens to be seizing the feeling to make experimental electronic music.

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The first time Alexis kills someone, it wasn’t just shocking in its violence, it was shocking in its orchestration. An early kill has her harmonizing making music with the act of torturing someone strapped into a chair. Bloodletting screams are drowned out by the music as Alexis tries to tap into the traumatic moment she experienced as a kid and the wave of euphoria it brought. The methodical nature of her torture devices feels like something out of Saw, though they also lack the moral conundrum that Jigsaw employs. She’s just killing people to chase a high. On the surface, that’s fantastic and feels like the film is just having fun with its premise. It’s when it decides to try and do anything with Alexis’s character that the tone of the murders feels like outliers.

As the bodies pile up and people start piecing clues together (Alexis sometimes seems completely inept at creating an alibi, so it’s basically a matter of when she will be caught), the film’s plot starts becoming more mundane by the minute until finally, it ends. Underneath the violence, it’s clear that Noyer is trying to pry at an idea of trauma being all-consuming, but the film doesn’t mesh well, resulting in a varying degree of satisfaction. It feels like a cross between Velvet Buzzsaw and Saw, but it never strikes a balance between those two differing tones. 

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However, Jasmin Savoy Brown situates herself neatly in the middle of the tonal nightmare by being both endearing and psychopathic. She plays her character almost like a drug fiend, always looking for that new fix, not willing to take no for an answer. Her character is conniving and manipulative in a way that benefits her short-term cravings, but she’s also barely holding onto her sanity as she starts having withdrawals. Watching her get in the zone during a torture sequence is consistently frightening as she disregards all morality to get the satisfaction she desires. It’s during those moments when the brutal sound design and trippy visuals come into lockstep, forming a symphonic nightmare that’s both compelling and disturbing.

Sound of Violence exemplifies some fantastic moments of gore, each one more creative than the last, culminating in a moment of body horror that is unforgettably silly and extreme. It’s the kind of film where there feels like a senselessness to it all but it doesn’t necessarily dampen the mood. Instead, it’s Noyer’s direction outside of those moments, working on a screenplay that feels too rote to hold up the absurd torture, that feels pedestrian and serving only to move between bouts of gore. The beats that work, really work, but Sound of Violence just doesn’t seem to find a solid foundation.

South by Southwest celebrates the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. Follow our coverage from March 16–20, 2021.

Written By

Chris is a graduate of Communications from Simon Fraser University and resides in Victoria, British Columbia. Given a pint, he will talk for days about action films, video games, and the works of John Carpenter.

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