The slasher is well past its ‘80s and ‘90s heyday, but the last decade has had its fair share of gory gems (and its large share of underwhelming throwbacks). Films like You’re Next and 2018’s Halloween promise a bright, bloody future for the genre, but unfortunately Sound of Violence can’t quite fulfill that promise. There are grisly inventive thrills to be had, but this synesthetic slasher can’t offer much else besides bloodshed.

Alex Noyer’s debut feature follows college student Alexis (Jasmin Savoy Brown) on her odyssey to discover the perfect symphony to awaken her dormant synesthesia. Ostensibly this is a story of cyclic trauma, kicking off in media res amid Alexis’ abusive childhood; the breaking point ends with her taking a meat cleaver to her father’s head, the sounds of agony unleashing psychedelic swaths of color. All these years later, she’s still trying to recapture that overwhelmingly vibrant moment, a journey that starts next to a dominatrix’s whip and proceeds through a tide of blood. There’s a compelling story about obsession and trauma buried within that premise, one that Sound of Violence scuttles in favor of cardboard characters and gory shocks.

Noyer quickly establishes a small circle of characters to suffer in the wake of Alexis’ artistic mania. Lili Simmons as best friend Marie and James Jaggers as Marie’s boyfriend Duke offer a decently engaging pair for Brown to bounce off, but any chemistry is undermined by a lacking script. Buddies banter, relationships flare up, past scars are exposed, but the drama is barely more than a thin thread linking Sound of Violence’s murder set-pieces. Brown’s performance is the strongest facet by far, bubbling with charisma and askew tics that give the film’s outrageously bonkers deaths a thrill beyond merely crimson spectacle.

Much like that central performance, Sound of Violence comes alive when Alexis indulges in musical murder. Each is a gonzo tableau that eschews sense and plausibility for body-horror creativity, like Saw if Jigsaw was about synthesizers instead of games. Alexis using these ridiculous means to create unorthodox mixes is a vein of black comedy that is sorely missing from the rest of the film. During those sequences, Sound of Violence becomes another movie, a weirder grosser movie, indulging in grotesque practical effects and death-trap absurdity. One might never look at harps and subwoofers the same way after Alexis finishes constructing her blood-gushing exhibitions.

Noyer tries to connect that insane murder-art with Alexis’ fraying relationships and troubled psyche, but only succeeds in making a disjointed oddly-paced horror film. The inclusion of a detective following on Alexis’ trail of bodies merely extends the runtime with bland and bored police-procedural clichés.

Noyer expanded his short Conductor into Sound of Violence, and it often has the feel of a killer short-film premise struggling to sustain 90 minutes. The movie buzzes with gruesome energy whenever its director or its protagonist relish in vividly presented murder. The gore and nonsensical deaths are the film at its unhinged best. But its attempt at dramatic depths only cut skin-deep.

Summary
There are grisly inventive thrills to be had, but this synesthetic slasher can’t offer much else besides bloodshed.
30 %
Only Cuts Skin-Deep
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