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Originally published Thursday, July 4, 2013 at 3:05 PM

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‘Berberian Sound Studio’: a creepy thriller

A review of the unsettling thriller “Berberian Sound Studio.”

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3 stars

“Berberian Sound Studio,” with Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Fatma Mohamed, Eugenia Caruso, Antonio Mancino. Written and directed by Peter Strickland. 92 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

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Watching the unsettling thriller “Berberian Sound Studio,” you become very aware of noises. A scream seems to rip the film in two; a whisper curdles your blood. Set in a schlocky Italian postproduction studio in 1976, it features Toby Jones (best known as Truman Capote in “Infamous”) as Gilderoy, a British sound engineer hired to create the sound mix for a film by Italian horror master Santini (Antonio Mancino).

Gilderoy, a mild-mannered fellow, is quickly intimidated by the strangeness of the place: a beautiful but surly secretary; the mysterious way in which his requests for reimbursements are dismissed; the shadowy lights and harsh voices around him. “You cooperate; you don’t question,” he’s told. Soon, life and horror movies start bleeding together; poor Gilderoy, quavering in fear, didn’t know quite what he was in for.

Writer/director Peter Strickland intriguingly weaves into the story a movie-within-a-movie that we barely see, but we hear. (We do see its lurid red credits and meet its bored voice cast.) And he makes his film an homage to the old-school art of creating sounds. Knives slash into watermelons with a satisfyingly moist gush; the distinctive, ominous tap of high-heeled footsteps is heard echoing in a hallway (created, as we see, by two male sound technicians — both named Massimo — in women’s pumps). And finally, “silenzio” falls ... which is, as this movie stylishly reminds us, the most terrifying sound of all.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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