A young woman channels trauma, a sensory condition, and obsession into her artistry in producer Alex Noyer’s directorial debut, Sound of Violence.
Alexis (Jasmin Savoy Brown) is a brilliant young woman. A teaching assistant in the music department at a college, she creates beats with the help of her roommate Marie (Lili Simmons), who customizes mixers and soundboards with her engineering skills. While Alexis seems to fit in, she has a dark past. Alexis suffered hearing loss due to an accident as a child, and her father was a vet dealing with the after-effects of war. With one fateful and violent act upon his return home, she regains her hearing and attains a euphoric state immersed in color; and as an adult, she chases violence to reach this state of rapture and to create her music. Her need soon escalates, as do her feelings for Marie. When Duke (James Jagger), Marie’s latest fling, becomes part of the picture, Alexis is threatened, plus the chance her hearing loss will return makes her ultimate sound experiment all the more urgent. Her last opus before her life derails becomes the only answer and she’ll do anything to complete it.
I loved the concept of Sound of Violence. Noyer, who started as a documentary producer, used his experience from the critically acclaimed documentary he produced in 2015, 808, and his short film Conductor to write a horror feature about a drum machine. He took a chance on a character, then cast a Black woman for the lead, allowing Brown to infuse complexity into the role. Alexis and her compulsion to hear the violence she inflicts due to past trauma plus her synesthesia (when one sense triggers others like assigning colors to letters, numbers and sound) is difficult to convey. Brown, with the slightest tic or expression, makes the turmoil Alexis deals with quite evident. Her pain comes out in her art, and her unassuming nature keeps her hidden in plain sight, at least for a short time. I also enjoyed the mad scientist aspect of Alexis, driven by her obsession for the perfect sound of violence and her love for Marie. She is also an unsung hero and provides sweet catharsis for any woman going into a record store and being subjected to a hipster record dork (re: the recording booth-Theremin scene.).
As an electronic music fan, the connection between horror and music is golden, and a big part of this film lies in the soundscapes Alexis creates. The scoring by Alexander Burke, Omar El-Deeb, and Jaakko Manninen effectively synthesizes chilling cries of agony with booming beats, culminating in an absurdist, campy finale.
Investing in women characters is sadly still a gamble in the cinematic universe, and within the horror genre, it can be hard to get it right. Noyer succeeds in Sound of Violence by leaving the male gaze in the dust; giving us women who teach and are music innovators in an arena still dominated by men, an LGBTQ+ theme that isn’t exploitative (in this old, Black hetero-lady’s eyes), and showed a Los Angeles filled with people of color. There are several nods to other films like Saw, The Perfection and body-horror influences like Cronenberg, but he’s made his own brand of pulpy, music-infused horror that’s a true delight.
Anyone who loves electronic music and horror as much as I do will enjoy Sound of Violence. Find it streaming on most outlets now.