Brad Anderson – the guiding hand behind Session 9 and The Machinist – has seemingly developed a crush on showing middle aged men in increasing states of mental disrepair. If it weren’t for his television work on shows with continuity linked episodes (such as HBO’s fantastic The Wire), one may think that is all the man has eyes for. Never you mind, though, for with Sounds Like Brad Anderson shows brewing insanity with admirable fervor and renewed originality.
This go around the victim is phone tech support moderator Larry. He recently lost a child and his seemingly loopy wife won’t let him forget. His coworkers hate him and his uncanny ability to reprimand them for things that, under rational circumstances, would be private. Oh, and his hearing is building uncontrollably to supernatural levels. Being forced to spend every waking moment listening to normally inaudible sounds of banal minutia with a booming, oft deafening volume is clearly carving away at the foundation of any reality the man once knew.
The episode contains exactly what you would expect from audio-centric material. There are whole segments dedicated to the ear drum horrors Larry must have thrust perpetually upon him. On one side, this could be a hinderance. So much time dedicated to simply sounds and not narrative development could get boring for some. And with out a proper listening environment, it could get damn near unbearably tedious. However, the benefits of the other side tip the scales. The sound mix is great and while the noise may be unidirectional, it isn’t without necessary function. It is a great, albeit obvious way to show the source of Larry’s irrational behavior.
The fat of Anderson’s episode begging to be trimmed is the undeniable fact that Larry is flat out detracting. Save for his abnormal hearing, he is a dreadfully boring character. The people around him are even boring. With everyone so void there is no one left to give half an emotional damn about. Yet even with no emotional investment, it is still a treat to watch the wall of Larry’s sanity shatter.
But let it be noted that this is a case where every character is annoyingly boring, but the actual process of watching the episode is not. Not for someone with a patience meter tuned past that of an MTV-based span. It’s nowhere close to consistently thrilling, mind you, but it’s not bound to put you into a coma either. Plus there is the unsettling sound mix and a dreamy, weeping music score that is one of the series’ best to date.
It has a tremendous, surreal ending with a deliberate, wispy aesthetic that grounds the faltering reality of the rest of the film into an almost fairy tale territory. As a whole it is not engineered for mass appeal, but anyone with a straight head for film told with ears and eyes as opposed to hearts and minds will find a fistful of things to enjoy about Sounds Like. Oddly enough, even with all its lofty missteps, it’s still a better built hour than most "Masters of Horror" episodes.