Alex Noyer’s Sound of Violence features some pretty elaborate deaths, tailor-made for the Midnight Madness crowd. Adapted from his short Conductor, the film follows a musician obsessively hunting for unique sounds to complete her symphony of destruction. Alexis, played by Jasmin Savoy Brown, experiences a rare sensory phenomenon known as Synesthesia that allows her to see different colors for every sound she hears. The problem is…. the most beautiful, alluring colors only come from the sounds of people experiencing severe pain and Alexis is willing to do whatever it takes to bring her art to life.
Sound of Violence celebrated its World Premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival where it was met with very polarizing reactions. I recently sat down with writer/director Alex Noyer for a super long, super casual chat about all things horror. Somewhere in there, we managed to find time to chat about the making of his debut feature, the original inspiration for his central character Alexis, and something he calls a “Blood Bazooka”.
“…it’s not every day you’re researching instruments and you’re thinking, How do I turn that instrument into a weapon?”
Jonathan Dehaan for Nightmare on Film Street: I was really happy to see someone finally make a horror movie with Synesthesia. It feels like I’ve been waiting forever.
Alex Noyer: How has it not been made? How am I the first one? We have generations of extra-sensorial experiences in movies, right? You think about Scanners, you think about all those movies and Synesthesia, I just don’t see it [anywhere]. Hannu Aukia, my producer and me, we were talking about how we show her artistic high and how do we address the feeling, the world she’s in cause she never watches- I hate the words “Torture Porn” by the way. People who called my movie Torture Porn really missed the point completely. Especially because she never once watches the victim die. She turns away every time. She closes her eyes, she listens, she’s either on the instrument or something else. It’s all about [what she hears]. The only thing is, if she just put a knife through somebody it’s very silent, right? It has to [loud] in order to be heard.
Researching Synesthesia is awesome by the way. You realize that not only is Synesthesia is an absolutely individual thing. It’s an ability that people all have their own but it’s also it’s a bit like dream studies because we’re only relying on what those people are telling us. We can’t see it, unless we have the ability, and even then we would see our own version of it. Some people, when they hear a number they see a color, and so I was like ‘You’re telling me I can pretty much do whatever I want and still be truthful and authentic?’ Initially, it was more described as a sort of Northern Lights type phenomenon and then we said ‘No, no, we need more color and we need lights to come in,’ and Daphne [Qin Wi], our cinematographer created- obviously, the part we added in VFX after was one thing but on set we were playing with lights around Jasmine to make sure that the Synesthesia was all the way back and all the way to the front. It needed to have that feeling and that’s why in the dream sequence (no spoiler) the wind hit her hair so that we feel the synesthetic blast she feels is really going through her.
NOFS: Without giving anything away, you have an exploding head in your movie and I’m always curious what you stuffed the head with because everyone seems to use something different.
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AN: I can’t tell you how we did it [but] the stuff that you have everywhere, apart from the blood because I have a wonderful blood wizard called Robert Brave who worked on Conductor and he knows how OCD I am with blood and aside, obviously, from all the VFX enhancement we had to add because we were in a real music studio and we couldn’t really fuck it up; There was a mixture of a lot of fake blood and banana. Banana is a great replacement for brain. In Scanners, they used dog food and they shot it with a shotgun. Now, we’re not allowed to do that. We were willing to go to the desert and just shoot a head if we had to but we found other ways to make it happen. Two words that I will share with you though [about] part of the process. It’s only a part, it’s not the whole thing, it’s part of Robert Bravo’s technique: Blood Bazooka.
NOFS: Blood Bazooka?! Those are two great words that don’t get put together often enough.
AN: [Rob] is a very innovative guy who works in a lot of indie horror. The quality of his work when it comes to- for example, blood, I am borderline OCD on how blood looks. I don’t like bubbles, I don’t like it too thick, I don’t like it too dark, it has to look fresh and the way it reflects light- it’s a problem but I love dealing with it […] and it’s weird because I don’t know if you looked into anything I did before but I was in arts and music documentaries so the leap into high-concept horror is big.
You know, the first horror movie that I saw was Night of The Living Dead and I was nine years old. I remember being distinctly being a little bit disappointed about the fact that it was in black & white and I couldn’t see the blood until after the car explodes and it’s on fire and everything, and you have this guy eating a leg, and that moment I was like “Yes!”. I realized at that moment, and again I was nine, that the black and white had nothing to do with it but the light hitting the blood makes it look fresh
“There was a mixture of a lot of fake blood and banana. Banana is a great replacement for brain.“
NOFS: So was your short Conductor a proof-of-concept for Sound of Violence?
AN: No, there was no synesthesia in Conductor so there was no intent. I was not thinking about making it a feature. I was writing an Eco-Thriller at the time, actually, and we thought we were close to a green-light on this feature [but] things changed and all of a sudden I had time so I took the family on holiday. I was on a beach in the south of France because I’m French so we hung out there.
I was not too disappointed because I knew that delays were normal and to be expected. I was reminiscing drum machines based on my documentary 808 and this is when I thought, “I need to kill someone with a drum machine”. You know when you produce a documentary about a drum machine that takes over your life for 5 years, and you’re drum machine-obsessed, the leap is like the leap between genius and madness. It’s [very small].
NOFS: As much as I’m sure you had a laugh thinking about killing someone with an 808, I’m sure you must have had a blast just coming up with different ways to kill people in this movie, right?
AN: Yeah, I mean, it’s not every day you’re researching instruments and you’re thinking, “How do I turn that instrument into a weapon?” [laughs]. I’m shifting, like, the instrument is the weapon and the flesh is the music…riiiight. Okay,” and when I spoke to Hannu & Jaakko Manninen, who composed the music in the short and oversaw the feature- we also brought in Alexander Burke and Omar El-Deep- but at the time of the short I spoke to Jakko and said, “I want to make music…but with flesh sounds. So, we’re going to make a cool track, think Aphex Twin, but then we’re going to synchronize flesh impact sounds with it,” and they [said], “What are you talking about?” and I was like “Yeah, exactly- but can we do it?”.
There’s no budget limit on imagination so you imagine some crazy, crazy stuff and when it came to the feature I had to jot down ideas, and not everything made it. There’s one big contraception scene but it never made it. Because we already had the finale, and it was not the finale, it was going to take it too high.
NOFS: You gotta tell me what that big contraption was.
AN: I mean- I don’t want to because if ever somebody wanted to make a sequel it essentially would be the opening scene. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. It’s BIG.
“There’s no budget limit on imagination…”
Alex Noyer’s Sound of Violence celebrated its World Premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival. Click HERE to follow our full coverage of the festival and be sure to let us know if you’re excited to check out this gory, colorful horror over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.