Simon (Silas Gordon Brigham) is a struggling musician trying to raise the money to finally record an album. Unfortunately for Simon, the economy is tight and his job as a freelance music teacher is not bringing in much. Things only get worse when one day he begins hearing an odd sound.
No one else can hear the sound, which seems to be getting worse, and his wife Ruth (Cate Buscher) wants him to get help. Medical for sure, but psychiatric if necessary. The only one who seems to believe Simon’s stance that there’s nothing wrong with him, that the sound is external and he can just hear it, is Ruth’s brother Jonas (Sam Repshas).
Jonas isn’t the best guy to have in your corner if you’re trying to convince someone to believe the unbelievable, however, as he’s well-known for being a conspiracy theorist of increasing paranoia. Simon just wants to stop hearing the sound, though, so he and Jonas begin working together to figure out what it could be and hunt down the source.
Devoid of all color but a slight yellow tint, Ultrasonic sets up a mood not just with its visual aesthetic, but with its soundtrack. The narrative is of the ponderous variety, which is to say that the pace could be considered slow, though the cinematography is often kind to the eye.
What I enjoyed about the narrative, however, was how off-balance it kept you. Most of the ideas Jonas expresses seem kooky, but then the film seems to validate him. Simon might be hallucinating or imagining the sound, but then a trip to the doctor reveals that he hears higher frequencies than the equipment normally tests for, so maybe he is hearing something. It keeps you guessing, makes just enough sense to instill a bit of paranoia.
The most accomplished aspect of this film is really the music, though. While the pace of the film can drag in places, the music keeps things interesting, often adding an energy to scenes that would be laborious without it. While I don’t feel the need for repeat viewings of Ultrasonic myself (not a statement on whether I enjoyed the film, I just don’t watch many films more than once), I wouldn’t mind listening to the soundtrack again.
Another aspect of sonic note is the choice the filmmakers made to not allow the audience to ever hear the sound Simon was hearing. It makes sense to me. For one, if he heard the sound all the time, consistently working that perspective into the soundtrack could be quite annoying for the audience (Simon obviously doesn’t dig it).
The lack of aural perspective also highlights the fact that Simon may be capable of hearing the higher frequencies, and since most of us can’t, maybe the sound IS there, but we just can’t hear it. Finally, it puts the question of whether Simon is really hearing anything or just imagining the entire situation on the audience to decipher. And since key moments in the narrative turn on whether he’s telling the truth, or whether we think he is, to reveal the sound explicitly would ruin the mystery.
And without the mystery, the film might be dismissible as little more than a unique look with a great soundtrack. I enjoyed the nuance of picking out whether Simon was suffering based on how Silas Gordon Brigham changed his performance; sometimes more subtle than others. It allowed a heightened appreciation of the acting in the film for those willing to invest in it.
This is the type of film where everything works together, but If you don’t embrace the main choice or mystery, or don’t like the music, or find the look disruptive, the whole thing severely suffers. You’re either entirely on-board, or just plain bored. I was the former, but I can easily understand how someone could embrace the other view.
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