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Larry Pearce has the gift and curse of impeccable, pinpoint hearing. Sometimes he can’t quite control his ability, and he can be deafened by the quietest of sounds. After he loses his son to a rare heart disease, Larry finds himself unable to deal with his sadness, and focuses squarely on his work—monitoring calls at an IT help centre. But the harder he tries to bury his grief the more sound his ears pick up, slowly driving poor Larry beyond the brink of madness.

Masters of Horror: Sounds Like
Though I've respected both the Brad Anderson features I've seen, I haven't yet subscribed to the increasingly popular belief that he's going to be one of the saviours of American horror. The Machinist and Sessions Nine are both classy, gorgeous, and at least somewhat original motion pictures, but for all their technical mastery neither was particularly emotionally engaging. Basing my opinion on these two films (I’ve never watched The Shield or The Wire) I can say that Anderson is a very good filmmaker that hasn’t quite crossed the threshold into greatness.

Sounds Like is probably the most original entry in the Masters of Horror series, unlike any other in style or content. It’s crisp, tight, and clean, and unlike those other Anderson films that left me cold, there is emotional substance to the plot. The emotions here aren’t intangible either, though dark and dangerous, and maybe a little broad, this hyper-realistic study of sadness is the kind of thing the series and director could use a little more of. I wouldn’t say Anderson was stretching himself into new venues per se, considering that both The Machinist and Sessions Nine are studious looks at descents into madness, but he is honing his craft.

In the last act the intensity ratchets down a few notches and what started as such an original motion picture plot begins to feel a little too much like an updated version of some of Edgar Allan Poe’s oft told tales of guilt. When the punch line finally arrives it isn’t quite the shock Anderson wants it to be, and some viewers may be a little fatigued after spending fifty minutes with such a hard to love character who finds himself in the same situation the majority of the runtime (not to mention the fact that the box art is a huge giveaway).

Masters of Horror: Sounds Like
Besides maybe The Black Cat, Sounds Like is the most theatrical looking episode this season. Anderson works well within the budget, and fills the episode with impressive but not overtly fanciful camera movement. With all due respect to all the other hard working composers lending their skills to the show, Anton Sanko’s score is the most nerve jangling in the series’ history, lending another level of bona fide cinematic class. Though the plot itself can’t sustain any more than sixty minutes, the episode would look right at home at the local multiplex.

Video


Sounds Like looks like a winner! Huh? Ah, you guys are no fun. Details are occasionally blurred by camera movement, but macro close-ups are sharp, grain is fine, and blacks are deep. The colour pallet varies throughout the film depending on the location and tone of a scene. These varying colours are all rich and mostly well defined. Skin tones are the noisiest parts of the frame, and are invaded by green when bathed in warmer light. Compression is not an issue, and I noticed no edge enhancement.

Audio


Sounds Like is, as one may expect given the subject matter, is an audibly assaultive picture. The sound design, which is easily 70% of the film’s success, is impressive, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is spot on. As the audience we experience almost the entire film through Larry Pearce’s super-acute ears, and just like him we have no power over what the soundtrack decides to pinpoint. The sounds that grate on Larry will grate on us, the sounds that startle Larry will startle us. I never thought I’d praise a soundtrack for annoying the hell out of me, but here I am. Anton Sanko’s aforementioned score is voluminous, giving the impression of a string quartet sitting right in your living room.

Masters of Horror: Sounds Like

Extras


Brad Anderson offers up a consistent commentary track, even though his vocal tones may be a bit on the droney side (he actually yawns a few times). The content of the track isn’t the most entertaining, and Anderson has a habit of stating the obvious, but it’s still pretty informative and well intentioned. I have a feeling that Anderson is a really nice guy in real life, but seems a little uncomfortable speaking.

And like clockwork this brings us to the discs two featurettes, and as per the norm one covers the making of, the other the special effects. ‘Aural Madness’ is a general look behind the scenes, where everyone fauns over Brad Anderson. Series producer Mick Garris basically calls the episode the series’ best. ‘A Cacophony of Sounds Like’ is the special effects featurette. There isn’t much for the KNB effects guys to talk about because the only make-up effects are a few shots at the end of the show, but Howard Berger musters a disgusting tale of maggots and flies anyway.

Anchor Bay/Starz is now supplying us with previews for every episode of Masters of Horror, rather than a few, and they, along with the original script and a photo gallery finish off the disc.

Masters of Horror: Sounds Like

Overall


Like Brad Anderson’s other work (or at least the work I’ve seen) Sounds Like is immaculately crafted, smart, and emotionally visceral, but doesn’t quite maintain the level of class and achievement it sets out with. It’s easily one of the best episodes in the entire series, only Stuart Gordon’s Black Cat wins more of my favour, and should satisfy fans of the series. Fans that prefer the blood and guts spectacle of something like Pelts need to understand that this is a more subtly violent episode, probably the least bloody in the series. Those who may have given up on the series may want to give this one a chance because of its vastly different approach to horror.


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