When someone is stabbed, or slashed, or clubbed to death, it's often the noise that makes us jump out of our seats or sink deeper into them, even though we're obviously not hearing a skull crack or flesh succumb.
The question is addressed by the terrifically inventive Berberian Sound Studio, which is both a celebration of the Foley artists and sound technicians who create and fine-tune the audio qualities of all movies, and a specific, tongue-in-cheek homage to the bloody and eccentric Italian giallo horrors of the 1970s, whose most famous exponent was Dario Argento.
If this is a horror film itself (and I'm loathe to limit it with a label), it would be of the psychological variety, as a study of an Englishman abroad going slowly out of his mind. Gilderoy (the appropriately gnomic Toby Jones) is a painfully retiring sound recordist, hired to work on The Equestrian Vortex, a tale of witchcraft and murder by horror maestro Santini. Used to working on nature documentaries in his garden shed in Surrey, Gilderoy will find everything about the new experience to be an ordeal, from the oppressive Italian machismo of Santini and his producer Francesco, to the shocking images that he has to watch, daily, in order to find their aural accompaniment.
At first, the tone of the film is playful, whether it's Gilderoy's hilarious first entry to the post-production studio, the corridors ringing with fake screams, and his introduction to the usefulness of melons for a giallo effect, or the culture clash with his employers. "Do you believe in God?" asks the tactile Francesco. "I'd rather not get technical," squirms the little man before him, who merely asked for his expenses.
But the tone becomes more serious as Gilderoy becomes troubled by the blood-curdling scenes he is watching from Santini's film (cunningly withheld from our own view) and in which – as he stabs a cabbage for the desired sound effect – he feels increasingly complicit.
Peter Strickland is a British director out of the mould of Ken Russell and Peter Greenaway, an artful iconoclast who seems to pay no attention to vogue or established notions of British cinema. His first feature, Katalin Varga, was a Transylvanian revenge thriller performed in Romanian; much of this one is in Italian (and includes the wonderful moment when Gilderoy's increasingly fractured mind starts to dub itself into Italian) and has a creepy and ambiguous denouement that reminds one of David Lynch.
There is no such originality on display in Total Recall, an unnecessary remake of Paul Verhoeven's sci-fi classic. Colin Farrell takes the Arnold Schwarzenegger role as the regular Joe who recovers his memory – and identity – as a kick-ass freedom fighter; Kate Beckinsale that of the pre-Basic Instinct Sharon Stone, as the wife with her own secrets.
There are several problems. As with many remakes, a few token tweaks to the plot breed more contempt than familiarity; Farrell doesn't have the awfulness in his acting that enabled Schwarzenegger's enjoyable self-parody; and director Len Wiseman is no Verhoeven, lacking everything in the Dutchman's repertoire – humour, bravura style and showmanship – that made the original film such outrageous fun. Like Wiseman's Underworld films, this has strong production design and some decent action sequences, but quickly dulls the senses.