Not everything works in Sound of Violence, but its effective balancing act of authenticity and go-for-broke bonkers keeps things singing.
Writer/director Alex Noyer intends the title of his debut feature Sound of Violence extremely literally. As Alexis Reeves (Jasmin Savoy Brown) explains in her introductory narration, she has a unique ailment — rendered deaf as a child after an accident, certain sounds still resonate with her not as noise, but as an amorphous mass of swirling, psychedelic colors. After she catches her PTSD-stricken father murdering her mother and older brother, Alexis smashes his head in and experiences an overwhelmingly vibrant cascade of light dancing around her. The act also, somehow, restores her hearing. It’s a fantastical premise, rendered in largely realistic fashion. In other words, this isn’t a superhero movie, but as the film progresses, it becomes very clear that it is indeed a horror movie, albeit one where the killer is the main character (and a largely sympathetic one at that).
Alexis has parlayed her gift, or whatever it is, into a fascination with experimental music and aggressively outré compositions. She has a supportive roommate-cum-best friend, Marie (Lili Simmons), and impresses her professors with her music theory lectures. But Alexis unexpectedly begins having hearing problems again, and when an aggressive drunk guy on the street catcalls her and then gets pancaked by a passing car, Alexis experiences again the full flush of the “sound of violence.” Her hearing is yet again restored, and the development compels her to begin seeking out new forms of grievous bodily harm, not only to maintain her hearing, but to recapture the rush of these visions, which she is convinced will help her compose her grandest musical achievement.
Noyer and cinematographer Daphne Qin Wu render Alexis’ synesthesia as vaguely Brakhage-esque abstractions, somewhere between sexual ecstasy and a user fiending for a fix. Once Alexis starts murdering strangers in earnest and recording their death rattles, Sound of Violence awkwardly lurches into a distaff Saw remake, as Alexis creates increasingly outlandish contraptions that inflict a wide array of agonies on her victims. It’s a strange mix of styles and attitudes, a naturalistic indie that transforms suddenly into campy Grand Guignol, with Alexis pulling off ludicrous feats of Rube Goldberg-inspired traps. It shouldn’t work, and parts of it don’t, particularly a haphazard subplot about a determined detective who’s convinced that these random murders are all linked. But there’s a lot of creative viscera on display here, and Sound of Violence rallies for a truly unbelievable ending, one which strikes just the right balance of authentic, heart-rending emotion and can-you-believe-it insanity. Maybe we’ve been watching the birth of a supervillain after all.
Originally published as part of SXSW Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 5.