Revenge narratives are in no short supply as of late, each installation in this ever-expanding genre canon usually interrogating the limits of vengeance as a means to heal trauma or retroactively restore justice. However, director Alex Noyer’s debut feature Sound of Violence instead proposes that sometimes those who have been scarred by violence have no control over perpetuating the cycle of pain onto others.
As a deaf 10-year-old in 2002, Alexis (Jasmin Savoy Brown) walks in on the gory scene of her PTSD-afflicted Iraq War vet dad beating her mother and brother to death. Sneaking up behind him, she bludgeons her father with a meat tenderizer out of tandem terror and rage. This act of violence triggers a synesthetic experience for Alexis, which is coupled with the miraculous return of her hearing. Nearly 20 years later, Alexis pursues an education in music at a highly competitive school—but becomes desperate once she begins to gradually lose her hearing again. Remembering that the act of murder restored her hearing once before, she hastily makes the decision to embark on a killing spree until her ability to hear is completely regained. Deciding to immortalize her victims through music, Alexis gruesomely records her victims’ deaths and incorporates their cries of anguish (and a lot of squelching) into her harsh-noise DJ sets.
The sensory phenomenon of synesthesia has long inspired artistic engagement, with creatives ranging from Nabokov to Mondrian probing the existential and visual parameters of the condition. A relatively common manifestation of synesthesia is called chromesthesia, a specific subset distinguished by one envisioning different colors when certain sounds or musical notes are played. Several renowned musicians are said to experience this visual/auditory subsect of synesthesia, including Lorde, Billy Joel and Pharrell (collab when?). Coincidentally, those with chromesthesia are also likely to have perfect pitch.
Yet Noyer isn’t convincingly interested in the experience of synesthesia, nor is he committed to exploring the existence of multifaceted responses to trauma through the character of Alexis. There is hardly any interrogation of how trauma affects her on a sensory level, nor how she has grown in relation to her trauma in the nearly 20 years that have passed since the initial incident. While Brown is a strong actor who embodies the role to its fullest (and silliest) extent, she is incapable of capturing more than a caricature. Nevertheless, Brown’s ability to express levity and absurdity adds a layer of charm to the film that would be completely lacking without her involvement.
Visually, the film fails to contribute anything significant when it comes to depicting the experience of chromesthesia in a clever or compelling manner, only ever showing it as a flat, neon-drenched cloud that pulses and morphs accordingly depending on the note played. Despite this, Sound of Violence manages to pull off a few brutal kills—made all the more enjoyable by Alexis’ ostensibly Joker-meets-Jigsaw approach to becoming a cold-blooded killer. The final scene, in particular, is a body-horror spectacle of transhumanism that surprisingly embodies Cronenberg and the Wachowski sisters alike.
The visual and narrative shortcomings of the film notwithstanding, Sound of Violence works at the very least as goofy, gory gratification. Once it’s clear that no insight will be gleaned from the perspectives of either living with synesthesia or the long-term effects of domestic trauma, it’s fairly easy to detach completely from the film’s ostensible message and simply succumb to its inanely glib guise. Though Sound of Violence marks a strong first leading role for Brown (who is cast in the forthcoming Scream reboot), it ultimately fails to impart anything more significant than the raw power of what one good actor with a brain-melting theremin can do for an otherwise underwhelming product.
Director: Alex Noyer
Writer: Alex Noyer
Stars: Jasmin Savoy Brown, Lili Simmons, James Jagger, Tessa Munro
Release Date: May 21, 2021 (Gravitas Ventures)
Natalia Keogan is a Queens-based writer who covers film, music and culture, with particular interest in the horror genre and depictions of sexuality and gender. You can read her work in Narratively, Filmmaker Magazine and Paste, and find her on Twitter.