'The Sound': Film Review

Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
Convoluted rather than convincing.

Jenna Mattison’s debut feature is a labored ghost story that co-stars Rose McGowan and Christopher Lloyd.

An unresolved childhood trauma leads a paranormal investigator in search of answers in Jenna Mattison’s convoluted ghost tale The Sound. Obscure in more ways than one and consistently uninvolving, this is a vaguely conceived suspenser that’s unlikely to find much support among horror audiences with justifiably higher expectations.

Paranormal researcher Kelly Johansen (Rose McGowan) specializes in debunking ghost sightings using sophisticated audio and computer equipment, reporting the results on her personal blog, where her enthusiastic followers applaud her frequent attacks on so-called supernatural events. She’s puzzled however, to receive an online message at her Detroit home office about an implausibly haunted subway station in Toronto and drops everything to start investigating, telling her fiance Ethan (Richard Gunn) that she’ll return that evening. Dodging security, she descends into the depths of the “ghost station,” which earned urban legend status due to a young woman’s suicide there 50 years previous. On a lower level long ago cut off from train traffic, her search leads to a disused corner of the station, where she makes a shocking discovery.

Calling 911 summons skeptical police Det. Richards (Michael Eklund), who can’t find anything amiss and warns Kelly about making false crime reports, leaving her behind in the abandoned station. As her only flashlight begins to fail, she encounters Clinton (Christopher Lloyd), a mysterious maintenance worker who explains that the station was built adjacent to both a graveyard and a psychiatric hospital, which may account for its creepy reputation. Continuing her search, Kelly soon encounters ghostly apparitions and overwhelming low-frequency sound waves below the threshold of human hearing that emanate from a source she’s unable to identify with her audio gear. As the subsonic assault saps her energy, causing increasing disorientation, Kelly begins losing her grip on reality, her consciousness drifting into a twilight realm that she may never escape. 

Mattison, an actress who also scripted the film, neglects to give Kelly sufficient background, slighting her complex family history and specifically the alarming events that scarred her childhood, which are handled principally with inconclusively disorienting flashbacks. Hopes for any Sixth Sense-type revelations eventually fade as the narrative becomes more nonsensical, leading to an unearned conclusion that’s far too simplistic.

Even Kelly, despite her sympathetic situation, isn’t a particularly interesting character. A dismissive attitude and superior self-regard don’t improve her likability either. McGowan seems comfortable with the role, however, although there’s not much heavy lifting to be done with the bare-bones plot that Mattison lays out. An underused Lloyd (recently featured in in the far creepier I Am Not a Serial Killer) briefly adds some welcome tension, but he’s seen too briefly to contribute much to either narrative or tone.

There were probably both stylistic and budgetary justifications for shooting so much of The Sound underground in dimly lit tunnels, but it’s difficult to remain engaged when so much of the action remains obscured by inky shadows. At least the film’s rumbling sound design provides some interesting counterpoints to the onscreen action, although it never achieves the degree of significance implied by the movie’s title.

Production companies: North Hollywood Films, Weathervane Productions
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Cast: Rose McGowan, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Eklund, Richard Gunn, Jane Moffat, Alex Braunstein, Michael Giel
Director-writer: Jenna Mattison
Producers: Geoff Hart, Jenna Mattison, Allan Ungar, Bill Viola Jr., Michele Weisler
Executive producers: Cody Hackman, Mike Hattim, Louie Maisano, Bruno Marino, Ben McConley, Jason Van Eman, Vincenzo Varallo
Director of photography: Pasha Patriki
Production designer: Jim Goodall
Editor: Michael P. Mason
Music: Aaron Gilhuis

92 minutes

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