Written by: Brad Anderson (teleplay), Mike O'Driscoll (short story)
Directed by: Brad Anderson
Starring: Chris Bauer, Matty Finochio and Laura Margolis |
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
If nothing else, the producers of Masters of Horror weren't afraid to paint outside the lines and look beyond the obvious genre legends to fill the show's array of directors. Their tapping of Brad Anderson to helm season twoís Sound Like is an inspired choice and a masterful pairing of a director to source material (even if it doesnít quite completely work out in the end). During the last decade, Anderson crafted two impressive and intimate mediations on psychological breakdowns in Session 9 and The Machinist, and Sounds Like brings him back to familiar territory in what is ultimately one of the more intriguing but unsatisfying episodes so far.
Whenever you call a company for customer service, you might be notified that your calls are being monitored for quality control. Larry Pearce (Chris Bauer) is one of those guys who listens in on conversations for a tech company, which ends up being a pretty good career choice because he has a preternatural hearing ability. Itís a gift that soon becomes a curse, however, as it spirals beyond his control when heís unable to overcome the grief of losing his son to a rare disease.
Thereís a bit of a disconnect at the center of Sounds Like, as the film never really brings together its two hooks--Larryís enhanced hearing ability and his grief--to form a cohesive thematic whole. As the film progresses, it feels like itís moving towards something thatíll make the connection, but, as it turns out, itís really just about a grieving father who canít get over the loss of his child--and he just happens to have super-hearing. It seems possible that his hearing is an unconscious penance foisted upon him due to his guilt, but a flashback scene seemingly indicates that Larry always had this ability--in fact, itís what tips him off to his sonís irregular heartbeat. I also suppose you could argue that his inability to truly listen to those around him and seek help is a little ironic, but Sounds Like seems more interested in skimming the surface than plumbing real thematic depth, which is okay once you accept that.
Bauerís performance at the center is great; I donít think thereís a single scene where he doesnít appear, so he literally puts the whole thing on his shoulders. Itís one of those difficult left-of-center performances that asks Bauer to toe a difficult line--Larry is obviously sympathetic on paper, but heís also supremely odd. Heís the guy everyone probably whispers about when heís not around (which sucks for them because he can totally hear them), and he has some really intense and creepy interactions with those around him. His wife (played with a tragic quirkiness by Laura Margolis) is ready to move on and have another child, but he canít even bring himself to let anyone enter his deceased sonís bedroom. Heís also weird at work, as he often listens in on the conversations intently, going so far as to terminate them as he sees fit. One of these episodes results in a painfully awkward exchange with one of the telephone jockeys who ends up consoling the woman on the other hand that recently lost a loved one. Larryís reaction to this sums up his pent-up guilt and unwillingness to move on, as he chews the poor kid out before trying to make up for it in his own tone-deaf way.
Sounds Like is mostly comprised of moments like that, as it becomes increasingly difficult for Larry to even hold conversations with others, especially once he goes off the really deep (read: homicidal) end. By the end, Anderson and Bauer have at least crafted a compelling, complicated character that doesnít conform to the one-dimensional grieving father stereotype since Larry ends up doing some really horrible things. In turn, he gets sent through the wringer, and, save for one especially grisly moment, the filmís horror is mostly psychological. Anderson especially magnifies the horrific implications of Larryís gift, as the slightest of sounds become ominous and cringe worthy--a flyís buzz, a finger-nail scratching against a paper, etc. Sounds Like also features what may be one of the most staggering confrontations with mortality when Larry visits his sonís grave and can hear the maggots and worms festering just below the ground. Itís a great, unsettling moment thatís also profoundly sad, and tapping into that sort of emotional resonance is what Anderson excels at.
Anderson generally squeezes the concept of Sounds Like for all its worth. Working with a typically top notch Masters of Horror crew, he delivers a perfectly fine effort that features one great performance and a few memorable moments. Sometimes it feels like two concepts welded together--I feel like this could easily lose one or two of its hooks and still work--but itís an assured mix of weirdness and sadness that doesnít come without a few humorous touches (the transition from Larryís robotic lovemaking to the mechanical wooden lawn implement is a clever moment of visual import). Bauer makes for a fine one man show, and his character exhibits shades of a typical Stephen King protagonist: tortured, isolated, and saddled with a bizarre gift. Like the other Masters of Horror episodes, Sounds Like is on a variety of platforms, and the Anchor Bay disc is a sturdy offering, filled with the usual array of features, including a commentary with Anderson. This might not be Andersonís strongest case for Masters of Horror status, but it still sounds pretty good. Buy it!
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