Killing for your art. Or your art killing you. Since The Picture of Dorian Gray the horror genre has occasionally dabbled in the world of artists killing for their work (Bliss, Velvet Buzzsaw). Earlier in 2021, writer and director Alex Noyer premiered his debut Sound of Violence at SXSW. Critics were a bit mixed on Noyer’s odd coupling of slasher sensibilities and art-house character study. But Sound of Violence hits just enough notes to add to your ‘must see’ list for the yar.
When she was a child, a deaf Alexis witnesses a brutal act of family violence. Though it left her an orphan the sound of violence triggered a synesthetic experience that also re-awakened her hearing. Now years later Alexis is an experimental musician whose work is getting attention. But Alexis learns that that the synesthetic abilities violence gave her are beginning to fade. And only acts of violence can restore the links. Desperate to maintain her hear, Alexis embarks on murderous campaign to create a macabre musical masterpiece.
Sound of Violence Haunting In Spite of Jarring Narrative Shifts
Writer and director Alex Noyer starts his feature-length debut with a horrific act of violence. It’s sudden and brutal, setting an unsettling tone for the movie early. But Noyer combines this violence with a birth of sorts as the act triggers Alexis’ hearing, which Sound of Violence represents with a wave of psychedelic colors. For the next 20 minutes or so, Noyer appears to be situating his story into an art-house character study of trauma. In addition to Noyer’s dreamlike visuals, his character’s musical creations actually feel bizarrely unique. When Alexis records a dominatrix spanking a client – clearly intoxicated by it and urging the woman to push further – Sound of Violence flirts with an almost European approach to psycho-sexual sexual thrillers.
While he never adopts all the tropes there’s no denying that Alexis’ killing spree resembles something from a Saw movie or Se7en.
And then Sound of Violence detours in very different direction. Once Alexis discovers what she needs to do to keep her hearing, Noyer melds indie sensibilities with the general slasher narrative. While he never adopts all the tropes there’s no denying that Alexis’ killing spree resembles something from a Saw movie or Se7en. Think Frank Zappa meets Jigsaw. On one hand, Alexis’ killing machinations are as implausible as anything in the Saw series. But Noyer’s killing methods are too creatively bizarre to just dismiss as recycling. In spite of this jarring narrative shift, Sound of Violence maintains a tragic tone that culminates in a sad, ambiguous ending.
Sound of Violence Nearly Loses the Beat on its Character Study
Where Sound of Violence also detours from its more indie, art-house roots is Alexis’ character arc. Like the movie itself, Alexis initially feels like a complex, fully realized character. Initially, Noyer seems interested in exploring Alexis’ trauma and history of violence. It also feels like there’s plenty of emotional weight for Sound of Violence to explore once she realizes the cost of keeping her hearing. Instead, Noyer flips his character in keeping with the movie’s overall tonal shift. Though Alexis remains a tragic character she seems to abruptly shift into ‘madman’ mode. Noyer never fully loses his grip on the character. And Alexis’ ambiguous fate feels more in line with how the movie commenced.
Though Alexis remains a tragic character she seems to abruptly shift into ‘madman’ mode’
Of course, Jasmin Savoy Brown’s (Yellowjackets) performance as ‘Alexis’ helps anchor the thriller. As the character becomes increasingly maniacal, Savoy Brown ensures there’s still humanity and moral complexity to Alexis. In addition, Alexis’ relationship with roommate and friend, Marie (Lili Simmons), grounds the movie’s final act. Sound of Violence teases more emotional depth to their relationship and tips its hand at just the right time to lend the climax more dramatic heft. Along for the ride, James Jagger’s (The Deep House) sort-of boyfriend for Marie has little to do. While’s not necessarily just adding to a body count, his primary purpose in the movie seems to be as a roadblock to Alexis and Marie’s potential relationship.
Sound of Violence Shows What Filmmakers Can Still Do With the Slasher Formula
Just when you thought the slasher was once again running on fumes, Sound of Violence re-imagines what one can do with the subgenre. Noyer presents something that mixes old ideas with a completely unique concept. Not everything works. What starts as a quirky indie slasher quickly treads the same waters as the Saw franchise. Something doesn’t quite sit right with Alexis’ rapid transformation into crazed Machiavellian killer. Nonetheless, Sound of Violence feels like a return to the sub-genre’s more indie roots in spite of some its over-the-top tendencies.