SXSW Midnighter ‘Sound of Violence’ is superficial cacophony

Photo of 'Sound of Violence' by Gravitas Ventures
Gravitas Ventures/Courtesy

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Grade: 2.0/5.0

“Sound of Violence” is the sort of film that feels like it was conceived over a joint and a bag of cheese puffs at 2 a.m. 

Based on writer-director Alex Noyer’s short film “Conductor,” it stars Jasmin Savoy Brown as Alexis, a composer who, as a young girl, regained her hearing and experienced synesthesia while witnessing the murder of her family. Now an adult, Alexis’ hearing is once again deteriorating, and she begins to seek out the sounds of gruesome bodily harm in order to trigger some twisted medicinal benefit.

While the premise is creative, “Sound of Violence” fails to capitalize on its bizarre set-up. It strives to portray Alexis’ story as a steady spiral out of control, but Brown overplays almost every scene, emphasizing the already hamfisted dialogue with so much force that the character arc comes across more like a sudden drop off a cliff. 

Though the first act paves the way for an original story to follow, Noyer instead veers into the conventional. All creativity is negated as “Sound of Violence” devolves into a cheap slasher, complete with an underdeveloped detective story that feels shoehorned in for no other reason than that these sorts of movies are supposed to have a detective subplot. 

As with recent films representing the Deaf community, “Sound of Violence” boasts impressive audio design that strives to convey the experience of deafness. However, this film is far more exploitative — unlike “Sound of Metal” or “Coda,” which explore deafness with nuance and care, “Sound of Violence” treats deafness only as a disability and inescapable threat. The very texture of violent sounds — the thudding of metal against flesh, the snapping of bones, the agonized screams — is fetishized, and though the creative music-related kill sequences are memorable, they diminish the entire effort to a trashy B-movie such as “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.”

The film’s cinematography isn’t quite as amateurish as that of the recent low-effort Nicolas Cage disasterpiece “Willy’s Wonderland” — Alexis’ euphoric synesthetic hallucinations are represented with beautiful, blooming abstract colors and flamboyant lens flares. Outside of these uncharacteristically inspired sequences, however, the majority of “Sound of Violence” looks frustratingly dull. Cinematographer Daphne Qin Wu has a keen eye for framing, but the lighting is mostly flat and uninteresting, adding little to the film’s visual storytelling.

Noyer’s script is frustrating — not only are some of Alexis’ character beats repeated in redundant scenes, but the protagonist’s central motivation is also completely muddled. The weakly connected episodic structure strings several plot points together, sometimes relying on pure coincidence to progress the story. 

Alexis oscillates between acting out of fear of losing her hearing and being driven by an overwhelming psychotic urge to create the perfect trigger for her orgasmic synesthesia — as a result, neither scenario is believable and her actions strain against the boundaries of logic. In one particularly nonsensical sequence, Alexis, hiding behind a wall like a cartoon villain, somehow remotely tightens the strings on a harp, using an unexplained technology to mind-control the harpist into continuing her performance, even as the over-tightened strings sever her flesh.

Of the main performers, only Lili Simmons, who plays Alexis’ roommate, actually elevates the slipshod material. Her character Marie, however, is channeled from one convenient plot point to another, as per the arbitrary requirements of the script, with little to do except be inserted into a predictable love triangle and subjected to meaningless torture. 

Unfortunately for Simmons, Marie shares most of her scenes with her semi-serious boyfriend Duke, played by James Jagger, who, at very best, only displays a fraction of a fraction of his father Mick Jagger’s talent. In scenes that should be dramatic, Simmons contributes the grand majority of the energy, while Jagger returns only a blank slate.

Rather than embracing its small budget and delving deep into Alexis’ character, “Sound of Violence” chooses to masquerade as something more elaborate, favoring showy, gratuitous gore play. And for all its effort, it falls totally flat. 

Neil Haeems is a deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected].