The Sound (2016)

I can’t speak for all horror movie reviewers when I say this, but personally I tend to take very little pleasure from seeing my initial preconceptions proved 100% correct. As soon as we first got word of The Sound, everything from the title to the premise to the blank, lifeless expressions on the faces of the lead actors in the accompanying stills drove me to assume that it would be an utterly bland, mediocre haunted house movie nigh-on indistinguishable from countless droves that have come before it. I hoped I was wrong; surely we all go into any movie hoping that we’re going to be pleasantly surprised, or what’s the point sitting down to watch them at all? Given that Rose McGowan had not long since declared her retirement from acting, perhaps there was something special about this role to bring her back. Then there’s the presence of Christopher Lloyd; perhaps, as with last year’s I Am Not a Serial Killer, this would be another smart choice of an above-average indie horror production from the ageing big screen legend. Sad to say, though, my first instincts were in this instance dead right. The Sound is a tedious, uninvolving, been-there done-that affair from start to finish.

McGowan is Kelly Johansen, and when we meet her pulling up to a remote farmhouse on a dark and eerie night, it initially appears she’s some sort of parapsychologist, called in to investigate a ghost sighting reported by the homeowners. However, once she sets up her laptop and microphone and starts live tweeting the event with the use of some rather snarky hashtags (#notscared, and the like), it becomes clear that, rather than being a ghost hunter, Kelly’s a professional debunker, who goes about identifying the scientific explanation for supposed supernatural phenomena, on the strength of which she can confidently state out loud, “there is no such thing as ghosts.” Of course, Rose McGowan was in Scream, and as such she – and we – clearly understand that to make such a bold declaration is the equivalent of “I’ll be right back.” Sure enough, just as she’s publishing a blog entry on her latest triumphant debunk, she gets a message asking her to come and check out an alleged haunting in an abandoned Toronto subway station where, some years earlier, a woman committed suicide under a train. Seemingly fearless, carrying her fancy laptop but no immediately apparent forms of protection, Kelly darts over to Toronto, disregards the ‘no entry’ signs, and heads on down into the dark, dingy, spooky old tunnels. Here she’ll meet an amiable but enigmatic old janitor (Lloyd, not on screen nearly as much as his billing would imply) and a somewhat intense local cop (Michael Eklund), and – wouldn’t you know it – see her preconceptions about the paranormal put to the test.

The Sound is the directorial debut of Jenna Mattison (also writer and producer), and a release of the recently revived Orion Films – and given how much love I have for that old brand (they gave us RoboCop, for crying out loud), I honestly wish I could say this film pointed towards a strong future for them. Unfortunately, as I think I’ve already made clear, The Sound is little more than a joyless exercise in tedium. While the strong central cast obviously doesn’t hurt, none of them are able to breathe life into proceedings. The burden largely falls on McGowan’s shoulders as she’s on screen pretty much constantly, all alone much of the time – and Mattison’s script barely gives her anything interesting to work with. The real sting of this is that the scientific aspects, explanations of how acoustic physics can account for suspected paranormal activity, might actually have been quite an interesting angle had it been properly explored. Unfortunately, The Sound treads a more familiar path of a scientist being compelled to disavow science when presented with a supernatural force which turns out to have a more personal connection to them than they initially thought. You’ll forgive me for questioning whether that’s the healthiest message in this day and age.

Devoted fans of Rose McGowan will doubtless be pleased to see her back as a leading lady, and those with a particular liking for standard ghost movies may find something to enjoy. Otherwise, I really can’t recommend The Sound to anyone; trust me, you’ve heard it all before.

The Sound is in US cinemas from Friday, 29th September.