The intersection between art and violence is a subject well-traversed in horror. In the last few years alone, films like The Perfection, Nocturne, and Velvet Buzzsaw have attempted to define what happens when the two meet. Tonight at SXSW’s virtual festival, writer/director Alex Noyer’s Sound of Violence came closer than either of them.
Alexis lost her hearing as a child. On the night her family was violently killed, it returned along with a synesthetic connection between the sounds of violence and sight, a sensation that she chases straight into young adulthood taking a very dark turn along the way.
Some viewers may remember Noyer’s previous short film Conductor. If so, you’re ahead of the game here as he explored one of the situations from Sound of Violence in that film. I remember the first time I saw that short, and the way it stuck with me long after it finished. This feature, I’m sure, will do the same.
Noyer’s casting for the film is brilliant. Jasmine Savoy Brown is beguiling as Alexis, playing her with a wide-eyed innocence that makes her darker pursuits even more effective as the film progresses. She dares us to understand her, to empathize with her, to feel and see what she does.
Brown is in good company with a talented supporting cast including Lili Simmons (Gotham) and James Jagger (Vinyl) as well as an appearance by Hana Mae Lee (The Babysitter).
Of course with music at its center, Sound of Violence comes with an excellent soundtrack/score provided by Alexander Burke (Haunters: The Art of the Scare), Omar El-Deeb (The Mandalorian), Jaakko Manninen (Conductor). The trio provide music that pulses and weaves together varying styles and instrumentation to create something that sounds unique and amplifies the the emotional journey of the film without ever getting in its way.
At its core, Sound of Violence is about the bitter fallout of loss and grief, and the ways in which emotional trauma traces its way down family lines. There is ultimately much to explore in in Alexis’s identity as a young, black queer woman and the ways that trauma plays out in the present.
Her relationship with her friend Marie (Simmons) is complicated by the introduction of Duke (Jagger). Her relationship with her class of fellow musicians is damaged when they hear the “music” she is creating. This cycle repeats throughout the film, as she becomes more and more creative in chasing the emotional release that she needs.
This is the kind of film that leaves you emotionally drained and uncertain as it comes to its inevitable conclusion.
Is it completely satisfying? Not entirely. This mostly comes from the almost episodic feel of parts of the film. We jump with Alexis from situation to situation without a lot of explanation. Yes, she is faltering and perhaps the writing is supposed to reflect that, but it just felt like the story could have been filled out just a bit more in places.
Don’t let this stop you from experiencing the symphony of pain that is Sound of Violence, however. It is a highly entertaining film with inventive–though sometimes unbelievable–kill scenes that will give you plenty to think about after its done.