Sound of Violence packs a punch. It was a surprising find in this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival entries. As a big horror fan and lover of scary movies, I found this film truly horrifying. There weren’t any jump scares and there wasn’t a creepy figure with nightmarish features. Instead, there was a beautiful Black woman full of trauma and pain looking for ways to feel good. Horror films are full of female victims, but it’s the female villain that really shocks. Packed with bloody scenes and gory images, at its core Sound of Violence gives us an unforgettable backstory that lends to hints of mental illness. This film may be shocking, but it’s also unnervingly smart.
In Sound of Violence we meet Alexis, a young girl who has lost her hearing. On the evening of her father’s military homecoming, vibrations on the floor draw Alexis to the living room where she finds her father aggressively hacking away on her mom. There’s blood everywhere. To save her mom, a scared Alexis takes a meat mallet to her dad’s head. Upon impact, Alexis gains synesthetic abilities, flooding her senses in a pure state of euphoria. As Alexis ages, we see her euphoric chase through music and unconventional sounds. Pursuing a career in music composing, her masterpiece is put together from the sounds of pain and gruesome murders. Sound of Violence is written and directed by Alex Noyer. The female-led film stars Jasmin Savoy Brown (For the People) as Alexis, supported by Lili Simmons (Ray Donovan), Tessa Munro (S.W.A.T), and James Jagger (The Outpost).
While we wait to see Jasmin Savoy Brown in the upcoming Scream film, she gets practice with the blood and gore in Sound of Violence. The early death scenes in Sound of Violence have an intelligent command to them. Alexis is a smart woman. The engineering and scientific elements she brings to murder are creative and cross over that line between genius and insanity. Orchestrated with a precision, the death scenes remind me of the Saw and Hostel films. They are brutal, smart, disgusting, and thought out. Of course things go awry when the need for pleasure takes over, mixed with paranoia and jealousy. The pain Alexis seeks starts small and quickly escalates as we move through the film. The layouts of death by machine, death by sound, and death by instrument all refer back to the musical nature of where Alexis finds pleasure. It’s like a sinister sound bath where the meditative experience washes over Alexis using various sources like knives, mallets, drills, saws, and even the human voice in pain and anguish. Needless to say, the special effects were very convincing.
The acting by Jasmin Savoy Brown is incredible. She is very talented and plays the role of Alexis with care. She is not over the top. Brown is able to exude grace, intelligence, and a sinister vibe all at once. Watching her on screen, you can never guess what Alexis would do next. The character of Alexis had a very Epicurean approach, believing her goal was to attain pleasure for herself and therefore limited her desires and banished a fear of death. Brown had a very American Psycho vibe going on. There was a clear portrayal of how trauma affects her character lending to the various mental illness symptoms she displayed. We’ve seen Brown go dark and grim in roles before (The Leftovers), but this was a whole other level for her. There is a dichotomy in Alexis like Asami Yamazaki in Audition (1999). The viewer gets to choose if Alexis is a mentally sick femme fatale or a powerful, vengeful counter to the patriarchy. Both versions lead to a powerful figure in the film. Sound of Violence works because of Brown, and I can’t wait to see her in future horror flicks.
One of the more compelling parts of this film is the writing and how it incorporates themes of mental illness. Alexis goes through trauma as a little girl, which can trigger so many different emotions and experiences. In the Sound of Violence, the trigger is brutal pain. While I am no expert on the subject, there are numerous symptoms that Alexis showed throughout the movie. Trauma affects people in different ways. Sound of Violence does not make light of the ways trauma can affect a person, but brings about a cinematic way in which post traumatic stress disorder affects the senses.
A clear list of symptoms Alexis displays are similar to someone suffering from addiction. Alexis needs more and more from her acts to get the same effects of the euphoria she’s been searching for. When her “high” wears off, she feels strange in a way, and needs to find it again. Alexis still seeks out this pleasure even though it’s making bad things happen in her life, including trouble with her friend/roommate. She spends a lot of your time thinking about the pain of others and how to get more. She hides the murders and the effect they are having on her. Alexis can’t live without this feeling, which causes a decrease in socialization, neglect of relationships, and ignoring risk factors. Other symptoms Alexis portrays are those that describe psychopathy. She has a superficial charm, is very intelligent, but also has poor judgment. There is also a lack of remorse or shame, impulsivity, manipulative behavior, and pathological lying. It’s a lot for one character to exude, but it is well done, which is a testament to the writing, directing, and acting.
There are a lot of great things about the Sound of Violence. While the pacing needs some work in the beginning and minor plot holes exist, this is a deeply entertaining film. It makes you think and holds your attention. Even the ending is different from most films, with almost a sci-fi twist. So glad I got to cover this one at SXSW.
Sound of Violence is currently screening at the SXSW Film Festival. The 2021 SXSW film festival will run virtually online March 16–20, 2021