With its blaring reference to the Simon & Garfunkel song in the title, Alex Noyer’s latest Finnish-American slasher Sound of Violence promises an intriguing mixture of brutality and musical expression. As an extension to his earlier short piece Conductor (2018), it follows the return of central protagonist Alexis Reeves (Jasmin Savoy Brown), along with some more of her musical Saw-like contraptions. However, this time we delve into her backstory and find out what fuelled the blood-bathed spectacle in the original short film.
In the opening scene, the audience learns that a 10-year-old Alexis suffers from hearing loss. As we’re plunged into these mute moments with her, there are points where we are forced to rely solely on the visuals. The effect of this is that we’re hit full-force with the first kill scene at just six minutes in. When Alexis stumbles upon her father brutally slaughtering her entire family downstairs, a plot twist sees her respond by grabbing a meat cleaver and bashing him over the head.
In this instant, she miraculously regains her hearing abilities, and a flood of hallucinatory hues paired with some celestial sounds wash across the screen. Alexis has synaesthesia, a neurological condition whereby senses are linked, allowing people to ‘taste’ colours or ‘see’ sounds. Tying the awakening of her senses to the act of killing results in this slasher having an aesthetically arresting spin, allowing the technical elements of the film truly shine through. It’s an expressionistic visual style from cinematographer Daphne Qin Wu that reminds us ever so slightly of the drug-induced scenes you might find in Euphoria, with its soft neon strobes of purples and blues.
Now older, and with her hearing returned, Alexis has channelled her energy into music and beat-making. Every time she puts on her headphones, it’s as though she’s wearing ‘Dawson’s Symphatic Diagnoser’, the fictional medical device from the Black Mirror episode Black Museum. For her, it becomes a neural transmitter, relaying not just sounds but also sensations.
This is where the real slashing begins and the sympathy ends. What starts out as some cheap BDSM whipping continues on into deadly drumming machines, which sync up her musical beats to the physical ones she inflicts on her victims. Threatened once again by the loss of her hearing, the kills in turn become even more elaborate and the visuals increasingly spectacular. The cost of these sensual cravings, however, is that at times they can come off too explosive on screen to the point that they edge towards sensory overload.
In an interview, director Noyer discusses the inspiration for these musical death traps. Before entering into the horror genre, he dedicated a large portion of his career to the Roland TR-808, an electronic drum machine of the ’80s hip-hop era. This was encapsulated in his documentary film 808, which showcased a handful of musicians and their personal relationships with this iconic piece of equipment. He decided, however, that this had taken over so much of his life that he was finally ready to “kill someone with a drum machine”, though “not in real life”. And so the concept was born and along with it the complex character of Alexis Reeves. What occurs then in Sound of Violence is an alternate narrative that runs alongside the central one. Every butchering carried out by Alexis becomes symbolic of Noyer’s own 808 overkill.
It is no wonder, then, that the film boasts a superb soundscape throughout. Supervising sound editor Jussi Tegelman manages to balance just the right amount of ambience alongside intensity, pacing out the suspense and then hitting you with a blood-soaked bass drop in the denouement. Each killing is perfectly fine-tuned, right down to the minute spurts and drips. There is definitely something very meta about it all.
It is a shame that, despite the sheer amount of blood shed, the characters’ dialogue remains fairly dry throughout. This is particularly true for the performance of James Jagger as Duke, which brings little to the screen but an archetype ticked off. As a result, the narrative is left resting almost exclusively on the shoulders of the more gore-heavy moments, and less on any authentic character to drive it forward. This in turn can make the scenes come across as fairly jumpy. Just as the underdeveloped detectives scrimmage to catch serial killer Alexis, the overall editing struggles to keep up with the punchier fast-cut scenes.
Overall, Sound of Violence stays true to the running thread that “beats are a language to tell stories”, especially since it is the auditory and visual elements that take centre-stage. It features some stunning full-on displays that dip into arthouse and body horror, ones that avid fans of the genre are likely to praise. Perhaps these are even more amplified by the short-fall in the script. Either way, there is much to be appreciated in Noyer’s experimental slasher. Playing on the senses, it has an avant-garde aesthetic that is sure to linger with the audience even after the credits have finished rolling.