Film Review: Reverb (2008)

Review of “Reverb” (2007), director: Eitan Arrusi, first published in “Sight and Sound” magazine Volume 19, Issue 3, March 2009. 
  
Synopsis
 
London, the present. Musicians Alex and Maddy are locked in a recording studio overnight by their friend Dan to record a new track. Alex hears a song by an artist called Mark Griffin on the radio and downloads it. Taking a sample from the song, Maddy notices a voice hidden within it. Alex and Maddy have sex. Alex finds strange markings on his body. Maddy finds a secret room which contains old recording equipment. Dan lets them out of the studio. Maddy visits Worzel, a record dealer who tells her about the song’s occult origins.
 
They return to the studio, this time joined by Dan, Worzel and Alex’s ex-girlfriend Nicky. Worzel is killed by feedback. Alex sets up to record in the secret room, and finds more markings on his skin. Dan has an epileptic fit. Alex is using the music as an invocation ritual; Maddy tries to delete all the music he has recorded, Nicky stops her. Alex ties Maddy up and begins the invocation ritual. Maddy escapes and cuts the power but is captured again by Alex, who resumes the invocation using Nicky as human sacrifice. Dan bursts in, but Alex slashes his throat. Maddy knocks over a bottle of water which shorts the recording equipment and electrocutes Alex, the studio catches fire. Maddy regains consciousness in an ambulance, the paramedic who saved her is revealed to be Mark Griffin.
 
Review
 
From Mick Jagger declaring sympathy for the devil through Led Zepplin’s Alistair Crowley fixation to David Bowie’s cocaine Kaballah phase, British rock music has a strange secret history of occult dabbling. This dark druggy past should provide ample opportunity for enterprising filmmakers to exploit. Sex, drugs and scary glamour all set to a cracking soundtrack – change a few names and the story writes itself. It is a shame then, that the team behind Reverb make such a hash of turning these rock ‘n roll myths into engaging cinema.
 
Set in modern London, the film sees an aspiring musician and his female friend locked up in a recording studio overnight while trying to record a new song. During their stay they discover that a previous occupant’s dabblings may have stirred up some very dark forces. The first thing one notices as we are introduced to the protagonists is how utterly unglamorous they are. It would be foolish to suggest that the act of picking up a guitar immediately makes one more interesting or sexy, but for a film which sets itself in the pop world to make its heroes so deeply dull seems almost perverse. It is, though, symptomatic of the flaw that vitiates the whole enterprise: no one involved seems to know or care about popular music.
 
The device which brings the past and present together is a song by a fictitious sixties rocker called Mark Griffin, whose song ‘Blood Sounds’ seems to exert a strange power on Leo Gregory’s frustrated musician Alex when he first hears it. On closer scrutiny hears strange, ghostly voices hidden within. Some baffling, and very probably factually dubious, explanatory dialogue reveals that the strange voices have somehow managed to get on to the recording between the downloading of the song and him listening to it. While the fact that “the voices are coming from inside the studio” is what is meant to chill the characters, the audience are more likely to be confounded by the fact that the song sounds like a late ’90s trip-hop track rather than the satanic sixties psychedelia it purports to be. It is this lack of attention to detail that undermines the suspense and renders the shocks comic.
 
The studio’s interiors’ fashionable modernity oozes clinical creepiness: with white walls and minimal lighting, its corridors have a bit of 2001 about them. Unfortunately though it rarely seems like a believable location, it’s a decent bit of set design but it feels distractingly artificial. Moreover, even before the supernatural nonsense starts up, basic parts of the film’s set-up are ludicrous. At the start of the film the characters are voluntarily locked in the studio by a friend who works there. The premise is almost plausible but, as the horror begins to unfold, the fact that the building seems to lack fire exits or even windows which they could escape through seems somewhat preposterous. From the ghostly voices to the studio location itself almost everything about “Reverb” feels painfully contrived.
 
Instead of using such tried and tested techniques as plot and characterization to build up suspense the film too often relies on gimmicky cutaways to heighten the tension and paper over the its many contrivances. Every few minutes the film cuts to unrelated images of knives and eyeballs whilst the soundtrack cranks itself up to eleven. It’s good for a quick shock but the trick is repeated so often it ends up histrionic and silly. Despite the premise’s promise of a heady cocktail of rock and horror as the film staggers to its overblown conclusion and Alex begins to fall under the control of evil forces one can’t help but wonder who ever thought a skinny bloke with a Liam Gallagher haircut was ever going to be the kind of horror movie antagonist that would merit anything other than laughter.
 
Paul Scott 2008
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