“All I could think of was that I needed to feel it again”
Sound of Violence (2021) follows Alexis (Jasmin Savoy Brown), a child with hearing loss who recovers her hearing during the brutal murder of her family, an event which also awakens synaesthesia in her, which for Alexis is an ability to see and feel sound. Several years later, Alexis is seemingly content working as an experimental musician, but with the looming threat of losing her hearing again, and her obsession with the synesthetic experience spiralling, she goes on a journey of self-discovery through brutal violence that threatens every relationship in her life. Alexis begins to commit crimes and inflict torture on others in order to generate particular sound waves and feelings that take her back to the night she killed her father in self defence and had her first synesthetic experience.
Jasmine Savoy Brown, best known for a supporting role in The Leftovers (2014-17), is tasked with the complicated lead role of antiheroine Alexis here, and does a great job. She never backs away from making Alexis at times remorseless and hard to root for, but also layers that with a real sense of trauma and vulnerability that draws the audience in, and leaves us with a complicated feeling towards our protagonist. Even when Alexis strays further and further into her world of violence and fantasy, Savoy Brown finds a way to root her in a very human experience.
The only thing drawing Alexis back to her humanity and the reality of life is roommate Marie (Lili Simmons), her friend and potential lover. Marie is kind and thoughtful, and the only person who really sees Alexis and tries to help her, and Simmons really capitalises on the limited screen time she gets. This relationship does form the emotional backbone of the narrative, but because it is never fleshed out and explored enough, it doesn’t have quite the resonance it should when the shocking events of the third act unfurl. The chemistry between Brown and Simmons is evident from the start, as they bounce off each other and flirt their way through what appears at first to be just a friendship. The romantic payoff is unfortunately deeply underdeveloped and used as almost a throwaway moment, which is frustrating as it could’ve been the key emotional driver of the film.
There is a smart use of very bright and psychedelic colours throughout the film, only used in specific moments, when the violence is at its most brutal and Alexis is feeling the sensation of being transported away by the sounds and feelings of it. The film features some truly brutal and gory violence, and while it is shot in stylish and often elegant ways, it is still incredibly gruesome. While this may turn some people away from the film right at the start, it is an absolutely essential factor, as Alexis needs to maximise the pain she inflicts on others, so that she can truly achieve the euphoric feeling she is searching for. It never ventures into torture porn, as the violence always has a distinct narrative purpose, but it still can be hard to watch at times.
The sound design on the film is one of its strongest attributes, as the on-screen sound is filtered through Alexis’ ears, dropping in and out as her hearing does the same. This fully immerses the viewer in her world and puts us into an uncomfortable position when the nature of the source of her music is unveiled. The haunting silences linger longer than you would expect, and when there is a violent incident, the sound launches into a powerful and almost all-consuming volume level, mirroring the sensory overload that Alexis is feeling in that moment. This work, combined with the very good editing work that keeps the film moving at a good pace and brings real visceral energy to the scenes where Alexis experiences her synaesthesia, are what really make the film shine and elevate it above generic genre fare.
The film will undoubtedly draw comparison with the superb Sound of Metal (2020), which stars Riz Ahmed as a musician who suffers sudden hearing loss and goes on a journey of healing and self-acceptance. The similarities are there; due to the title, the protagonist’s music career and experiences with hearing loss, and the journeys of self-discovery this leads them down. However, that is where the parallels stop, as not only is Sound of Metal a much superior film with a more satisfying conclusion, but Sound of Violence is not interested in finding solace and acceptance for its protagonist, and instead is telling a story of trauma and artistic expression.
Without going into spoilers, because it is vitally important that this scene is witnessed unspoiled for maximum effect, the final sequence on the beach is some of the most gruesome and painful imagery put on screen in recent years. While I don’t think the whole third act itself lands in quite the narrative way it should have done, this particular imagery will be ingrained in the minds of viewers for weeks after.
The story touches on many themes; the artist driven mad by their goal, inherited trauma, violence perpetuated by survivors, but never quite commits to any of them enough. Despite an uneven script that fails to deliver a fully satisfying third act, Sound of Violence is a unique experience, with striking sound design and some strong lead performances, which make it worth watching, especially for genre fans.