Masking Threshold is a film that’s going to make you uncomfortable, and I mean really uncomfortable. It’s a film where everything, especially the visuals and audio, is amplified, due to the nameless protagonist’s obsession with sound. Despite the intentional discomfort, it’s an arresting watch, tracking one man’s descent into madness. You’re unlikely to see anything quite like Masking Threshold this year.

The protagonist, played by writer/director Johannes Grenzfurthner and voiced by Ethan Haslam, is an IT specialist and Ph.D. drop-out who suffers from tinnitus. He’s determined to find the root of his hearing impairment. The first few minutes show all the equipment he uses to document his experiments and upload his videos. Most of the setup utilizes macro lenses, so every visual is magnified. Not only are the visuals enlarged, but so are the sounds. This creates a profound type of tension, mirroring the protagonist’s suffering. Everything, be it an ant dying or the man’s chewing, intensifies. We hear everything the way the man hears it, and yes, it’s painful.

As the film continues, details about the protagonist’s personal life are sprinkled throughout. His mom is a hippie who glues crystals to his steering wheel. His dad lost his legs in Iraq and frequently bestowed some pretty wise life advice. At one point, the reclusive man had a social life and healthy relationships. He even reflects on his place within the queer community prior to the Pulse nightclub shooting. His obsession killed any chance for normal social relationships, and it’s profoundly sad. These details are spaced out perfectly and give the man a type of nuance and depth that makes his gradual downward spiral into craziness hit that much harder. He’s a fully realized character, so seeing him sink into his chair, scrolling through YouTube comments, is tragic. He closes the door on everyone, be it former lovers, co-workers, or neighbors. By the end of the film, it’s him and no one else. The experiments, meanwhile, grow more extreme and more dangerous to the few people who try to keep a foot in his life.

Further, there’s so much knowledge crammed into this film that it overwhelms, and perhaps that’s the point. The recluse frequently drops deft information about biology and evolution, all while railing against religion and anything that’s not quantifiable. He’s trapped in his own head and says at one point that more than half his books are medical and science-related. Yet, the more he learns and the more he experiments, he falls further down a bleak hole, making it less likely that he’ll ever re-enter the world. For all the knowledge he possesses, he can’t really do anything with it. In fact, he’s paralyzed by it.

Sure, there are plenty of movies about obsession, but Masking Threshold broaches the subject in a way you’ve never quite seen before. The visuals and audio are nerve-jangling. There’s really nothing endearing or likable about this protagonist, and yet, as his experiments grow more grotesque, you can’t look away. Grenzfurthner’s filmmaking here is wildly experimental and clever, and it works. This is a rabbit hole oddly poignant for our fractured social media age and an extreme close-up of one man’s existential dread and decay.

 

7.5 Out of 10

 

Masking Threshold
RATING: NR
Runtime: 1 Hr. 30 Mins.
Directed By:
Written By:

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About the Author

Brian Fanelli loves drive-in movie theaters and fell in love with horror while watching Universal monster movies as a kid with his dad. He also writes about the genre for Signal Horizon Magazine, HorrOrigins, and Horror Homeroom. He is an Assistant Professor of English at Lackawanna College.
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