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[SXSW Review] ‘Sound of Violence’ Has a Muddled Message About Trauma

We all handle trauma in different ways. Some of us self-isolate, some seek the comfort of others and some seek professional help. There are many other ways to cope with trauma, but what Alex Noyer‘s Sound of Violence posits is that a very select few of us do so by hurting others. It’s an admittedly odd stance to take, but that’s what the film does.

In 2002, Alexis (Kamia Benge) has recently lost her hearing and is preparing for her father’s return home after a stint in the Iraq War. He is suffering from PTSD and after a brief episode during family dinner, he murders Alexis’ mother and brother. After walking in on the massacre, Alexis grabs a meat tenderizer and proceeds to murder her father. During the process, she develops synesthetic abilities and is able to see the sound of the bodily harm she is inflicting on her father. Flash forward 18 years and Alexis (now played by The LeftoversJasmin Savoy Brown) has gained back her ability to hear and is in school pursuing a career in music. Unfortunately for some people, she still yearns for the sensation she experienced while she murdered her father, and the only way she can experience it again is to hurt someone.

The way Sound of Violence deals with trauma is bound to be controversial. On a surface level, it implies that those who suffer trauma move on to do harm to others. The problem is that that’s where the conversation ends. Sound of Violence isn’t at all interested in what drives Alexis other than her need to experience synesthesia again. Her drive is comparable to drug addiction as she continues to chase her high. That addiction is a result of her trauma, though. It would be a different story if her father’s murderous rampage wasn’t also the result of his PTSD, yet here we are. The film’s two trauma-afflicted characters both resort to murder to cope. Because the film is more interested in Alexis’ methods of murder than it is her trauma, it feels underdeveloped.

Also underdeveloped is Alexis’ relationship with her friend Marie (Banshee‘s Lili Simmons). At first glance, the two seem to be in a relationship until Marie introduces her new love interest Duke (James Jagger, son of Mick), which sends Alexis deeper into the throes of her addiction. Alexis is clearly in love with Marie, but the second Duke enters the picture she becomes jealous to the point where it fuels her desire to harm. So now we’ve got a vengeful queer character who can’t deal with the fact that her best friend isn’t reciprocating her affections. Fantastic, but if you can get past that, there is still some enjoyment to be found in Sound of Violence.

That enjoyment comes from the various murder set pieces, which are all pretty great. They’re the kind of scenes that make you want to witness them in a theater because they are shocking, gory and bound to elicit gasps from a crowd (the first one involves a machine that would make even Jigsaw jealous). There’s a lot of fun to be had here, and gorehounds will not walk away disappointed. Similarly enjoyable are Alexis’ synesthetic episodes, which are visualized via bright colors floating across the screen, superimposed over her orgasmic facial expressions. It’s a fascinating way to express the sensation she is feeling that calls to mind something you would see in a cosmic horror film.

Brown is tasked with carrying the film, and she does so with aplomb. Appearing in nearly every scene, she inspires the necessary amount of empathy required for the audience to want to continue following her on her journey since she is the ostensible villain of the piece. Simmons makes for a good would-be love interest, but her Marie is given far too little to do, often relegated to offscreen antics with Duke while Alexis gets to killin’.

Sound of Violence boasts a strong lead performance from Brown and has quite a few impressive kill scenes, which makes it all the more frustrating that it chooses to tackle its subject matter on a strictly surface level. Unfortunately, when the subject matter you’re dealing with is trauma, there’s no reason not to dig a little deeper. It’s a well-made film, but its thesis is difficult to swallow.