Trauma affects different people in different ways. Some bury it deep within, some let it destroy them, and others lash out violently in response to their own pain. Our reaction to those in the last grouping can vary. While you can never truly understand another’s suffering until you’ve walked in their shoes, you still know it’s wrong to inflict trauma on others. How do we look at victims who become perpetrators? Sound of Violence sets out to explore the question, but it’s quickly distracted by elaborate kills, attractive style, and a lead who can’t stop letting her own trauma define her.
Alexis (a terrific Jasmine Savoy Brown) was just a child when her father, a war veteran, succumbed to his own PTSD-fueled demons and murdered her mother and brother. The child takes a meat tenderizer to the man’s head, and while she was deaf beforehand, her hearing returns in sync with the mottled crushing of her father’s flesh and skull. Nearly two decades later, Alexis is working on a degree in music, but when her hearing begins to fade once more, she takes drastic measures to keep sound flowing — by keeping the blood of others flowing as well.
Writer/director Alex Noyer riffs on an interesting premise regarding the crossroads of art and violence, but where something like H.G. Lewis’ Color Me Blood Red (1965) is content with just that, Noyer’s film complicates things with the introduction of that trauma. Complications aren’t necessarily bad things, and there’s merit in the idea here as Noyer arguably adds more weight to the main character’s journey, but it’s a journey that goes nowhere fast. Gory kills and sensory overloads take precedence, adding style and genre thrills, but the narrative and characters pay the price.
Alexis is a smart young woman with an intense interest in sound, and while her tastes already lean experimental when we meet her as an adult, they take a darker turn when faced with the renewed loss of her hearing. Seemingly overnight she becomes learned in engineering, electronics, medicine, and the art of avoiding criminal detection, and the results are evident. She designs elaborate torture chairs, performs an intricate redesign on a harp, mixes some kind of mind control concoction — it’s a lot to take in and marks Alexis as a formidable villain, but these set-pieces become the film’s focus, leaving everything else behind.
Supporting characters in Sound of Violence are, ultimately, as disposable as Alexis’ traumatic motivation, and none are as disappointingly handled as her best friend, Marie (Lili Simmons). The two are close with Alexis harboring a secret crush for her friend, but in addition to giving Marie little to do, the affection rings false in the face of Alexis’ behavior. She’s a clear sociopath leaning into madness, and from her blood-spattered smile after killing her father to the coldness she exhibits when no one’s watching as an adult, there’s no real emotion there. It makes her dynamic with Marie little more than a temporary, ineffective placeholder in Alexis’ life.
While the narrative and characters fail to gel, though, the genre elements and Noyer’s craftsmanship shine through. The kills are Saw-like in their intricacy and ability to inflict suffering, and the results can be extremely bloody. You’ll wonder why Alexis doesn’t simply listen to recordings of real-life bloodletting — the internet is your friend, psycho! — instead of making her own, but gorehounds will be happy with the results. The final set-piece makes little sense, but it’s a memorable visual. Similarly, the imagery used to denote Alexis’ dips into synesthesia are colorful, trippy delights. They remind of the euphoric glimpses of satisfaction in Hitoshi Matsumoto’s R100 (2013) as Alexis’ expression takes on an orgasmic sheen.
“Beats are language to tell stories,” says Alexis, and when she kills a man just to hear him bleed it’s clear that her story is one written in violence. To what end, though, is the question that Sound of Violence seems uninterested in answering. It’s under no obligation to, obviously, while its numerous genre beats are enough to deliver an engaging slice of audio horror. But the film’s somewhat disappointing ending makes it clear there are still more stories to tell.