★★ out of ★★★★★
Pick a plot, any plot! It’s a regular story line buffet!
THRILL… as Rose McGowan takes a bunch of naps!
GASP… as Christopher Lloyd changes light bulbs!
SCREAM… as you lose track of which story you’re supposed to be following!
Sometimes I just feel bad for movies. Obviously, with the good ones, you beam at them; their story lines are strong, their actors full of pathos, their edits effective and well-placed. You know they’re going to do well out in the world. Holding their own at the box office or rising to the top of the indie circuit. With the not-so-good ones, though… they’re like the wayward children of the film world. You watch them and think, “wait, you’re gonna introduce a brand new character now?!” or “hey, what happened to the story you were telling earlier?” And you just know all the other movies are going to pick on them during recess.
I have a feeling The Sound (a.k.a., Paranormal: White Noise) got picked on. A lot.
I really wanted to like this movie. Writer/director Jenna Mattison’s directorial debut grabbed me with its premise: super low-frequency sound (infrasound) was to blame for supposed “paranormal” experiences. As in, the effects of extremely low-frequency sounds — sounds too low for the human ear to pick up — on the human body caused people to hallucinate, feel a “presence”, and many of the other things associated with a traditional haunting. Pretty cool, right? Because science!
And, to be fair, the movie started out okay. Kelly Johansen (Rose McGowan; Scream (1996), Grindhouse (2007), etc.) is an infrasound expert, blogger, and debunker of the paranormal. With her blatantly advertised Apple MacBook laptop computer and oh, so convenient Apple iPhone (both of which probably should have been given their own credits at the end), Kelly travels around debunking reports of ghosts. Which somehow makes her money. Regardless, she just gets back from a farmhouse where she scientifically proved a little boy was a liar-liar-pants-on-fire, when an anonymous tip comes in about scary things in Toronto, Canada. What?! Scary things in Canada? It’s no wonder she left again in a hurry. Next thing we know, she’s in a cab on her way to the haunted, abandoned subway underneath the not haunted, fully active subway. Hotel? We don’t need no stinking hotel.
Luckily, the people who run the subway in Toronto are very trusting and they keep all the doors unlocked. Wanna get into the abandoned sub-subway? Just open the door and it’s all yours! Down goes our heroine, where she meets a young fellow who tells her how to get to the most haunted spot. The spot where, 50-some-odd years ago, a lady was pushed and/or jumped onto the tracks and died. Happily, these forgotten subway tunnels under the working subway tunnels have excellent WiFi so she can continue posting her progress to Twitter.
And that’s just the first of many story lines you can choose to follow.
In the course of Kelly’s initial exploration she discovers a dead body. The most shocking thing about that is that she actually calls the cops! Who does that?! Nobody in a normal horror movie, I can assure you. Detective Richards (Michael Eklund; Netflix’s Altered Carbon (2018), The Call (2013), etc.) shows up, but the body has mysteriously disappeared. Natch. Once he finds out she’s a blogger, though, it’s obvious that she should be allowed to prowl around alone in the abandoned tunnels so he leaves and she takes a nap. The first of many, as it turns out. You can just tell she’s thinking, “oh, I feel a flashback coming on… I should take a nap.”
Once Kelly wakes up from her flashback-laden nap she continues with her exploration. Going deeper and deeper into the haunted subway system looking for the place where the low-frequency sound is at its strongest and most dangerous. Along the way, she meets Clinton Jones (Christopher Lloyd; Piranha 3D (2010), Piranha 3DD (2012), etc.) who spends the entire movie changing light bulbs. Though he does take time out of his busy schedule to show her some nice graffiti and to explain how the subway was built on an old Potter’s Field cemetery where the poor and unknown were buried (which sounds oddly familiar).
Eventually, our friend Kelly finds the area containing the lowest of the low-frequency sound waves. As an infrasound expert, she knows the area to be extremely dangerous for the human body. She understands that the time she can stay there safely is counted in minutes, so she only takes one nap and only does a few random Google searches that she could’ve easily done topside once her investigation was over. Oh! And remember the detective we met earlier? Well, for some reason, he comes back to force Kelly at gun point to finish the investigation she was already going to finish anyway. And then he explodes. I know how that sounds and I know it’s a “I gotta see that!” kind of statement, but trust me. It’s not. It’s just the bizarre end to the third potential story line in this train wreck of a movie.
And that’s only the halfway point.
I’ve seen reviews of The Sound talking about how dark everything is and it’s true, it’s a dark movie. In its defense, though, I didn’t think it was too dark. Production values are high enough that they could effectively film in such dim light without problems. The sound quality is also very high. That seems to be a budget that gets cut early and often in movies that don’t have huge wallets so it was a pleasant surprise. Not that the sound is spectacular, by any means. The din in the background is often pretty annoying, in fact, but I choose not to mark that against the film. I mean, it’s called The Sound, right? I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that it was an artistic choice instead of an irritating mistake.
The main problem with this movie (in addition to it being waaay too slow and thoroughly ridiculous) is that it’s trying to be too clever for its own good. Plot lines come and go faster than characters in the Game of Thrones. Did it have something to do with a psychiatric hospital? What the Hell was all that with the detective? Was the cemetery bit completely irrelevant? Did Carol Anne ever manage to get away from the TV People*? Not to mention, for the most part, everyone delivers their lines like they’re The Most Important Lines In The Movie. Not quite the William Shatner School of Acting, but close enough that he could probably sue for copyright infringement.
While I do love a good pseudo-science and I’m always looking to promote more women writers and/or directors in the male-dominated horror genre, I gotta say stay away from this one.
Follow Rose McGowan’s example and just take a nap instead.
* If you don’t get the reference, I demand that you stop what you’re doing and go watch Poltergeist (1982). Right now!