Sound of Violence (
written and directed by Alex Noyer
starring Jasmin Savoy Brown, Lili Simmons, James Jagger
Don’t Let Her In (
written and directed by Ted Nicolaou
starring Lorin Doctor, Kelly Curran, Cole Pendery
Alexis Reeves, a young deaf girl, unlocks her synaesthesia whilst battering her PTSD suffering veteran father to death with a meat tenderiser as he bludgeons her mother and brother. Right from the off, Sound of Violence, the debut feature from Alex Noyer, is anything but subtle.
Years later, her hearing recovered, Alexis is a composer/teacher/DJ whose lust for the sounds of violence resurface when she experiences sporadic instances of deafness. Her vampiric need for the pain of others, and its not the violence that she craves but the suffering it causes, sets her off on a kill spree framed as an investigation into sound and composition. And what begins as a potentially interesting investigation of the daisy chain of trauma gradually fades into a run-of-the-mill slasher albeit one wearing a quasi-feminist cloak with a side-helping of queerness that is mere set dressing.
The kills are outlandish and frankly ridiculous, often administered by the kind of fiendish contraptions that Jigsaw or Dr Phibes would have been proud of, the mechanics of which seem to materialise out of nowhere. Though our murderous heroine is no muscle queen, and seemingly works alone, she has no problem building and setting up her bonkers machines without anybody seeing or hearing her. There is an effective, gruesome sequence with a harpist whose hands are shredded by her strings. It’s a novel set-piece and well staged but bares no scrutiny in terms of logic. How was the harp rigged? Well our killer also happens to be the neighbourhood harp repairer. Another kill with a souped-up Theremin is so stupid that it temporarily, or permanently depending on your patience, tips the film into splatter-comedy.
There’s a side plot with a detective that is seemingly folded in only to ensure that when the required running time has been reached there’s a means to bring the story to an end. The detective does very little detecting, turning up after the event to deliver a few gruff lines of exposition. The final set piece on a sunlit beach is so ludicrous, even within the skewed logic of the world the film has set to establish, that those who’ve enjoyed the gore up to that point will see it as something of a let down.
Jasmin Savoy Brown, soon to be seen in the Scream reboot, does what she can as Alexis, a character that is simultaneously underwritten and overthought and is supported ably by Lili Simmons as Marie, her unrequited love interest. There’s a small supporting role for James Jagger as dopey boyfriend Duke. Jagger may not be the most emotive of actors but I warmed to him immensely as the loser rock’n’roller in the much missed Vinyl and for that alone I’ll always be amenable to seeing him in anything.
Written and directed by Noyer the film is based on his award winning short Conductor (available online for those interested and perhaps more successful than the feature). Sound of Violence strives for the kind of arthouse horror of Peter Strickland, and is closer perhaps to In Fabric than the superficially similar Berberian Sound Studio. The synaesthesia sequences are sparing but effective and grace the film with the giallo-esque styling it strives for and fails to achieve elsewhere though the cinematography by Daphne Qin Wu is striking, often rescuing scenes from the enervating banality of their staging.
Like the similarly flawed Netflix miss Velvet Buzzsaw, Sound of Violence can’t decide whether to be arthouse or grindhouse and never commits far enough one way or the other to really make a statement, nor does it fuse an effective synthesis of both. It’s always difficult to present supposedly extraordinary work that a movie character is creating on the screen. The painted masterpiece looks just like any other painting. The beautiful poem that our genius poet is writing is just more words. The music that sounds like no other music ever just because our character says so is usually underwhelming. And here, when we hear the “sounds of violence” that Alexis composes that sends her into psychedelic raptures it actually sounds pretty much like a fancy drum machine on demo mode. There’s a particularly lame scene where Alexis is deejaying at a club and the music she’s playing sounds like the kind of muzak that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in a shopping mall.
That said, there is one moment that is genuinely disturbing. Alexis plays a work in progress as part of a lecture to her class and we hear a discordant racket, broken bones and off beats and the screams and squelches of her murder spree. The class plead with her to switch it off, they cover their ears, somebody screams. Alexis looks shocked. Outraged that they can’t get on board with her art. Don’t get me wrong, the music presented still sounds like the kind of thing a teenage goth could put together in their first fifteen minutes on GarageBand but it’s the realisation for the first time that Alexis is absolutely insane and for all her talk of her grandiose artistic quest to create a musical masterpiece what she’s recording is just a cacophony of atonal pain.
With Sound of Violence Noyer proves he has the chops to deliver guts and gore but, in striving to create what is sometimes termed “elevated genre” his premise is never satisfactorily explored and comes across as little more than a gimmick. This would have been fine if the film had featured as perhaps a long short in an anthology or single episode of a genre TV series but as a feature the slim narrative is stretched too far and the plotting and characterisation lacks the substance needed to carry the audience between the admittedly ingenious kills.
If Sound of Violence is a valiant failure in trying to push at the edges of art and horror then Don’t Let Her In is unapologetically old school and succeeds because it doesn’t aim very high. Written and directed by horror veteran Ted Nicolaou, who started way back in the sound department for Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this Rosemary’s Baby adjacent low budget, one location, film could have been released in the 1980s.
A mysterious witchy stranger, Serena (Lorin Doctor), sublets a room from vapid couple Ben (Cole Pendery) and Amber (Kelly Curran) and, unsurprisingly, things take a turn for the weird. Released in two parts by schlockmeister Charles Band’s Full Moon Features Don’t Let Her In does everything you’d expect from the kind of 1980s VHS horror films that inform it. There’s gratuitous nudity, gore and practical monster effects and transformations. There’s adequate but not especially riveting dialogue and a minimal and entirely predictable plot. The acting is pitched perfectly for the material with an unstated acknowledgement of the dumbness of the script and star of the show Doctor steps right up to perform some gibberish incantations as if she’s reciting Shakespeare. There’s nothing new to see here but sometimes a blast of unsophisticated by-the-numbers genre film-making is just enough to warrant an hour or two of your time.
Sound of Violence screened at SXSW and is streaming in the USA from May 21.
A UK release is set for later in the year.
Don’t Let Her In debuted on the Full Moon Features app at https://www.fullmoonfeatures.com/ and is now on streaming platforms.
Main Image: Lorin Doctor in Don’t Let Her In
Jasmin Savoy Brown in Sound of Violence