Director: Matthew Saville
Although less claustrophobic than the insanity tinged genius of Aronofsky’s Pi and far more accessible to daring art-house audiences than that experimentally trippy classic, I was initially reminded of Aronofsky’s fascination with visual and aural experimentation within the first few brilliant moments of writer/director Matthew Saville’s Noise. With an overwhelming emphasis on auditory trickery, the film begins on confident cinematic footing with the audacity of launching right into the psychologically loud yet eerily quiet mayhem as-- typically lost in her headphones-- young McDonald’s employee Lavinia (Maia Thomas), boards an Australian train only to discover after a moment of nonchalantly getting lost in the post-work fatigue and rhythm of her music that all of the other passengers have been massacred by gunfire.
Following this shocking discovery, we’re introduced to a parallel story, also set at the train station as police officer Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell), who has privately suffered for quiet months with ringing in his ears, experiences a blackout while boarding an escalator at a stop down the line, only to awaken later at a hospital where he’s diagnosed with tinnitus and learns he may eventually lose his hearing.
The two stories link up quickly as McGahan’s medical note is ridiculed by his bullying hyper-masculine superiors and he’s assigned night duty, babysitting a caravan at a crime scene adjacent to not only the train but also the mysterious death of a local woman in the community. These two tragic occurrences sound an alarm in their sleepy, suburban community that they may be somehow related as the justifiably frightened sole witness Lavinia tries to grapple with what had happened the night she boarded the train and McGahan must deal with random locals who visit him to complain, jeer, fight, gossip, slander, fill with misinformation, and genuinely make his shift all the more complicated.
With a phenomenally gripping beginning that braces audiences for a typical police procedural thriller, Saville ignores the limitations of the genre and like a magician from the school of experimental Aronofsky, uses sound in peculiar ways throughout, heightening the tension. Ultimately Noise’s narrative approach is less a traditional whodunit as a character driven, moodily atmospheric piece where eccentric locals abound and things are never as they appear in the spirit of John Sayles where the setting is both a clue and a character and it will undoubtedly play differently to audiences who live in other countries who—although admittedly entranced by its spell—may not fully understand the nuances that helped earn the film a remarkable twelve awards in its native Australia.
While the awards aren’t hard to imagine given the high quality of the film, this is especially apparent in the pitch perfect performances of both Brendan Cowell as he tries to resign himself to living with his disability and fight the wedge it threatens to divide in his relationship and work as well as young Maia Thomas’s emotionally wrought Lavinia, whom we learn in well placed flashbacks, may actually know more than she initially wanted to share for fear of her life from simply being in the wrong place at most decidedly the wrong time.
Although Noise will infuriate those hoping for a strict cop paradigm who will grow weary with the film’s continuous exercises in sound manipulation in creating an unforgettable dramatic effect and the end of the film is maddeningly vague-- inspiring viewer discussion long into the night-- perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the entire impressive film is that it only marks the second filmmaking and first feature length effort from its gifted and imaginative helmer Matthew Saville.
Exclusively available through Film Movement, Saville’s Noise is one sure to cause lots of conversational noise once you hit eject, however filmmaking students will want to hijack the disc, in order to study that opening, experimentally bravura sequence of tone establishment many times over, discovering what happens when all the post-production elemental tricks work together in nearly symphonic unison at the highest level to engage the audience.