Film may be a visual medium, but that doesn’t mean audio has no importance. Since the beginning, filmmakers have used music to emphasize the emotions of a scene. And in the age of modern technology, sound designers can arrange noises in a space to create an atmosphere. Part of what makes a sound designer so vital is their ability to finesse the small details for the big picture. But in the event of that person losing that ability, how can that affect their job and their life in general? Fittingly enough, this is the question that Out of Sync wants to solve.
The film follows a sound designer named C (Marta Nieto) as she touches up the audio for a film project. However, it seems as if she is suffering from a slight hearing delay. When trying to match a slapping sound to a slap onscreen, she has to offset the image by a fraction of a second. This catches the attention of her colleague Iván (Mike Esparbé), who then tries to defend her capabilities in front of her co-workers. But this is far from a one-time incident. At one point, a car hits her and knocks her out, but she doesn’t hear that collision until seconds later. Eventually, the delay gets so severe that interacting with others becomes a burden.
From that summary, it’s evident that hearing is a key method of engaging with the world. However, director Juanjo Giménez is not satisfied with just showing a person get mad at their hearing problems. Out of Sync goes out of its way to depict C’s perspective with a deliberately broken sound mix. This means that clear environment sounds and correctly timed dialogue are out of the window. In place of all that are muffled environment echoes and voices that do not match people’s lips whatsoever. It’s a terrific technique that Giménez deploys in the beginning, and it only becomes more disorienting as the film progresses.
In fact, a large portion of what makes Out of Sync an engaging drama is that gradual escalation. The car accident scene is a good example of establishing stakes, as it forces C to start processing things differently. That said, the delay in that scene is not so significant that it feels like the visuals and sound come from separate events. Later in the film, she makes an entire conversation with a family that she cannot hear until it ends. Only then does it feel like she cannot engage with people like she used to. As a result, we get to feel that frustration at the same time as the main character.
It’s not hard to imagine a version of this that wallows in the misery of the situation. Thankfully, Pere Altimira & Giménez’s screenplay finds a way to make it a tale of acceptance and embrace. In a surprising move, the film injects genre trappings that hint at something supernatural. Providing a full explanation would spoil the surprise, but it’s safe to say that C begins to find solace in her new lifestyle. To some extent, the blend of the fantastical and the intimate calls to mind Unbreakable, with its low-key approach to a superhero movie. But even name-dropping that would be a stretch, since that movie announces its true identity much earlier than this does.
To be fair, Out of Sync is not without some setbacks. For the first 45 minutes, the gradual pacing works in allowing the audience to be with C at all times. But past that, there’s a sense that not every scene of C hearing events long after seeing them provides new information. Some could argue that these exist because of the abrupt scene conclusions that cut out any vocal reactions on C’s part. Still, it’s not like Giménez couldn’t have integrated the abruptness in earlier scenes. And while Nieto makes for an engaging presence, the same cannot be said about most of the supporting cast.
Nevertheless, I have to respect any movie in which most of the right choices are also the conventionally wrong ones. Had Out of Sync used any other premise, the janky sound mix would appear as incompetent. But with the premise it currently has, the mix cannot be more appropriate. It’s a movie all about embracing the jank, and what better way to showcase Giménez’s intent than a soundscape that does exactly that? It may not be a new favorite of mine, but I like to think I can spot a success when I see it… – Mark Tan
Out of Sync‘s release date has yet to be announced.