Director: Jenna Mattison
Cast: Rose McGowan, Michael Eklund, Richard Gunn, Christopher Lloyd
Running Time: 1:32
Release Date: 9/29/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 29, 2017
Nothing jumps out at the characters in The Sound—or at least not that we see. That sets director Jenna Mattison's debut movie apart from a good number of horror movies. The atmosphere is what matters here, and in that regard, Mattison, who also wrote the screenplay, also shows a keen awareness of the standard that, sometimes, a horror movie is only as good as its location. This one is set in an abandoned subway terminal, where the rumblings of trains carrying people are heard—as a repeated reminder that safety exists nearby but definitely not in this place—but the number of living people we actually see is limited.
Mattison spends a good amount of time establishing that dreary, isolated atmosphere, as Kelly Johansen (Rose McGowan), an amateur debunker of paranormal phenomena, sets up shop in an empty, underground train station beneath Toronto. Her specialty is the presence of sound waves that register below human hearing. These low-frequency waves, she insists, can cause hallucinations that make people believe they have seen ghosts.
The keys to her research are meters to measure the frequency of sound waves in an area. That's the first thing she looks for when she encounters a new place that is reported to be haunted. Of course, being the self-learned expert on the subject that she is, Kelly has to pause in her investigation of the subway station to search the internet to find out the effects of these waves, which, in the station, are the lowest she ever has seen.
By that point, we know she already knows the effects, because the sound is what she looks for and she's already hinted at knowing these things to her followers on a social networking site. It's one of those moments, like a few too many in the movie, that breaks with the fairly simple setup of the story.
In this case, a self-proclaimed expert on low-frequency sound waves looking up the effects of being exposed to low-frequency waves is purely for the benefit of the audience. In the case of, say, Kelly being able to go online in a specific part of the train terminal that already has been established as a cellular dead zone is, well, just lazy. We eventually can buy that, somehow, Kelly can get a cell signal in this place, which is located beneath other train lines and has been out of service since before there were even cellphones. We can buy it because even she's surprised by the fact. It's when she's able to get online in a specific spot—where she says and shows that such a thing is impossible—that we're being asked to buy something unlikely, simply for the sake of convenience.
It's a bit nitpicky, yes, but such things are also symptoms of the movie as a whole, which expects us to take the story's setup at face value, only to have that story become about something else entirely—something that's only hinted at in vague flashbacks and hushed elliptical statements. Would you believe that the real ghosts aren't the ones that may or may not be haunting the train station, but that they are actually the ghosts of Kelly's unclear past?
The problem isn't necessarily that Kelly's past is poorly communicated (We get enough of a gist to make some sense of it). It's that there's little reason to care, when most of the movie is devoted to other matters—namely, whatever is or isn't happening in the subway.
There's a prologue, set in the 1960s, in which a woman jumps in front of passing train. There are moths that swarm from holes and crevices in the walls, and there are apparent apparitions of dead bodies, which brings a couple of police officers and a curious detective named Richards (Michael Eklund) to investigate what turns out to be nothing. A mysterious custodian (played by Christopher Lloyd) is down there, changing light bulbs despite the absurdity, and Kelly's fiancé (played by Richard Gunn), who deserves some kind of award for useless dedication. The guy grabs a last-minute flight from Detroit to Toronto, takes a cab toward the station, and, after getting caught in traffic, runs most of the way there. That's when he decides to call the local police about Kelly's online messages for help.
The movie is clearer on the potentially supernatural stuff (The station was built on a common grave) than it is on what ultimately matters. One can sense a decent enough story in either of these threads—a simple and spooky tour of a haunted subway or a study of repressed trauma. The Sound, though, tries for too much with too little.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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