A supernatural skeptic sets off to debunk paranormal sightings using low frequency sound waves in an abandoned subway station and is met with unforeseen evil and eerie memories.
The Sound (originally titled Lower Bay) is the directorial debut of actress Jenna Mattison.
A paranormal skeptic and sound expert/researcher named Kelly Johansen (Scream’s Rose McGowan) is taking on yet another gig (which feeds her profession, her blog and her online following) to attempt to debunk a potential haunting – using her scientific knowledge. This time, she’s checking out an abandoned subway station in Toronto, where 40 years ago, a woman died on the train tracks. With her own messy past to contend with, she explores this deserted locale, meeting up with a police detective (Michael Eklund) and several other strange characters.
Sounds pretty good, right? Hold onto that thought…
The film draws inspiration from Bernard Rose’s Candyman – with the urban, graffiti-ridden locale – and clues within the actual graffiti. There’s the idea of an urban myth, flying insects as an important symbol and a female researcher putting herself in danger to get her story.
Of course, Candyman is a far better horror exercise with actual scares.
On that note, The Sound isn’t scary. It relies on overused scare tactics of any number of horror flicks from the past decade or so. Creepy little girl in a white dress randomly appearing out of the dark. Old-timey doll with a rotting face. And a “big twist” to wrap things up. (By the way, the reveal is not interesting.)
There’s a very brief introduction to Kelly’s husband Ethan (Hemlock Grove’s Richard Gunn) in the film’s opening, and so when the character is thrust back into the story so abruptly (much, much later) – it’s jarring and feels out of place. And the fact that he’s basically a deus ex machina-type character, makes his entire presence feel far too convenient.
On top of that, the few times where McGowan and Gunn are on-screen together – are painfully free of any chemistry. No history is written for the couple and that certainly couldn’t have provided any help to the actors when trying to illustrate a bond/relationship.
The story feels convoluted and confusing. Obviously, I made some conclusions based on the evidence provided, but it’s unclear how Kelly is ultimately connected to all of this and why she ended up in this situation.
The visual tricks exhibited in the flashbacks were interesting and a nice switch from the moody lighting of the rest of the film. It’s some sort of overexposed black and white cinematography, but in ultra-high definition. I liked this choice, but after only a few seconds, it started to irritate my eyes. Perhaps that was intended. Irritants or not, I thought it was a cool shift.
The film feels monotonous. While I appreciated the sets/locations used (they could have looked a little more rundown for being 40 years old), certain sections began to feel overused and too recognizable. Obviously, to accommodate the story, Kelly would return to certain places. But there were many opportunities for action to take place elsewhere in the tunnels. This repetitive use of spots didn’t help to make Kelly’s situation more helpless or the railway more vast.
And there are plenty of dialogue-less sequences of Kelly simply wandering these locations – creating boredom as well as pacing problems. This began to irritate me as well.
Part of that problem, is that it’s not a good performance from McGowan. She has a few good emotional moments, and is able to produce some real tears – but when things are just her basically aimlessly walking and reacting to noises – she can’t sell it.
Character actor Michael Eklund is always a welcome face in any cast. He plays a lot of menacing roles, and his character here (Detective Richards) is no exception. He’s a good actor, but really is given nothing to do in The Sound. But he makes the most of it. The script is of no assistance to him, as the characters ultimate motivations (and indeed the need for his very presence) are very muddy. Did I miss some of this or was it just not there?
Screen legend Christopher Lloyd appears in a small role as a withered old maintenance man changing bulbs in the abandoned railway. Of course he’s good, but ultimately, the role of Clinton Jones could have been played by just about anyone.
I had a few questions about plain old reality all during the film. Some of my concerns were “explained away”, or at least there was an attempt to do so.
Kelly is at least three massive levels down while exploring the bowels of the abandoned station. And yet we’re to believe that her internet access is as clean and smooth as if she were standing next to a wireless service the entire time. And while there are several “I have no cell signal” moments throughout, she’s still able to send her constant social media updates to her viewership, with no problems and no delays.
Also, when she’s searching for the exit during the film’s (painfully slow) climax, she is able to simply open a door and step out onto the street, apparently at ground level. We never see her climbing the multiple flights of stairs necessary to find that door. Again, she’s like three (if not more) stories underground.
And her initial access to this closed-off station is as easy as opening a door. No heavy barricades or real physical deterrents. Just a “do not enter” sign.
There’s also a 911 call later in the film, and the dispatcher’s reaction/dialogue – well, I didn’t buy it.
And despite Detective Richards’ stepping in – would the beat-cops have just let Kelly’s presence go? There’s real physical danger in this abandoned station. Would she not have been arrested for trespassing, or removed for her own safety? Hmmmm…
It’s all of these little questions which grate on a viewer. And while the film as a whole wasn’t particularly engaging anyway – these gripes don’t help the film’s case. As I’ve said numerous times before, if these are the things keeping my attention, the film’s got some big problems.
Finally, the visual effects are not particularly impressive. With ghostly apparitions and hordes of moths at play here, you’ll want something in the effects with a little more oomph, and certainly some extra authenticity. We’ve seen all of these kinds of things before, and certainly done better.
But overall, The Sound looks okay, production value-wise — particularly the lighting. However, the story is flimsy, the performances just okay and with no drive toward suspense and excitement – it’s kind of a lost cause.
Doesn’t sound so good anymore, right?
The film is now available on select VOD outlets.