From the director of The Machinist and Session Nine comes a very different entry in the ongoing Masters Of Horror series. While director Brad Anderson hasn't been around long enough to quality as a true 'master of horror' he's certainly off to a strong start with the two aforementioned features and this clever and well directed offering, Sounds Like.
Larry Pearce (Chris Bauer of The Notorious Betty Page) spends his days toiling away at a software company where he's employed as a call monitor, meaning his job is to listen in on the tech support calls and make sure that the employees are handling things professionally and not spending any more time on each call than absolutely necessary. When his days are over, he goes home to his wife, Brenda (Laura Margolis), who is obsessed with having another baby. Sadly, Larry and Brenda lost their son to a freak heart condition not too long ago and ever since then, all Brenda seems to want to think or talk about is pregnancy. If Larry's life weren't tough enough as it is, he has a unique condition wherein his hearing tends to be very acute. He seems to zone in on background noises that most of us wouldn't pay attention to, to the point where they become deafening. A woman stirring her coffee cup, a librarian typing on her computer, a fly rubbing its legs together - sounds like these, normal everyday sounds, can and do cause Larry serious stress and pain.
When Larry gets into trouble at work his boss makes him go see a therapist, figuring it'll do him some good to talk about what happened with his son and in turn, hopefully turn his performance at the office around for the better. This doesn't work though and soon the sounds get louder and louder and louder until Larry has no choice but to silence every one and every thing around him.
Unlike other episodes of Masters Of Horror, Sounds Like is not particularly gory or bloody save for a few minutes towards the end of the film. That said, it's probably one of the most disturbing entries in the series and it manages to accomplish this not with visuals so much as with sound. Add to that strong performances from Bauer and Margolis, who fashion the Pearce's into a fairly sympathetic if obviously very trouble couple, and you've got a strong, character driven piece that not only makes us feel for the central characters but which also brings us along for the male leads rather rapid descent into madness. As the sounds envelope and eventually bombard Larry, so to do they envelope and bombard the viewer which makes his predicament all the more unsettling.
The film is well paced, it builds very nicely to a slightly predictable ending but one which definitely fits well within the context of what has come before it, and there's enough style and craftsmanship behind the cinematography to ensure that the film also looks quite good. The result is a very original take on what a horror movie can and should be and while those looking for monsters, jump scares or gore galore might not find much here, fans of more subtle, character driven psychological horror should find the feature quite rewarding.
Sounds Like is, like every episode in the series so far, presented in an anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen transfer. Overall this is a strong transfer despite some softness in a few scenes that look to be more related to the photography than to the transfer itself. Color reproduction is good, check out the outdoor scenes and the scenes near the lake for evidence of that, while the indoor scenes and office scenes maintain an appropriately cool look. Black levels are strong and there are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts. A little bit of edge enhancement and some aliasing is present, but thankfully it's minor and doesn't detract much from the picture.
Audio options are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, both in the movie's native English language. If at all possible, watch this feature with the 5.1 mix enabled as it really does a far better job of relaying the experiences that Larry goes through in the film than the 2.0 track does. Surrounds are used to grind some of the sounds into your ears and with the effects and ambient noise used in the film playing such an insanely important part in the film's effectiveness, it's nice to see that some care and consideration was put into the mix on this disc. It sounds fantastic.
First things first, Brad Anderson supplies an audio commentary that does a decent job of filling in the blanks as far as where some of the ideas for the movie came from in addition to standard details like casting and effects. He also tends to talk about what's happening on the screen a few times and bounces around a bit - when the track is on, it's on and it's interesting but unfortunately it's not as consistent as it could be and at one point it sounds like the director is yawning!
From there, we get two pretty decent featurettes, the first of which is Aural Madness which takes us behind the scenes of the production and which treats us to interviews with most of the cast and crew. The focus here is on Anderson's talents as a director and all involved seem to have some sincere respect for the man. The second featurette is A Cacophony Of Sounds Like and it's essentially a brief look at the effects set pieces used in the climax of the film. Considering this is one of the least effects intensive entries in the series so far, there's not a whole lot of meat here but learning about how Howard Berger got to work with maggots is strangely amusing. Additionally, look for an appearance from Mick Garris and a few cast members in this segment, as well as the gentleman responsible for handling goldfish duties on set!
Rounding out the extra features is a still gallery of behind the scenes photographs, trailers for other episodes of Masters Of Horror, the movie's script in PDF format for those who happen to be DVD-Rom equipped, animated menus and chapter stops. There's an insert inside the case which features the cover art on one side and the chapter listing on the other, and the keepcase fits inside a slick cardboard slipcase that features identical cover art.
Brad Anderson has done a fantastic job creating a unique and unsettling horror film that toys with genre expectations and scares us not with what it shows us, but by what it makes us listen to. Anchor Bay has done their typically solid job on the disc and included some nice extras to compliment the strong presentation and Masters Of Horror: Sounds Like comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.