The most horrifying sounds in film history

Sound has the power to truly rattle us, and its effect is more visceral in some ways than what we see, as Burn explains. “Sound paints a picture that’s so personal to you and it does it in a way that connects more with your subconscious and your limbic system,” he says. “It’s not something you can rationalise as easily as a picture, and that gets under your skin because you can fool someone’s eyes so much more easily than you can fool their ears.”

He adds: “The eyes react slower than the ear. The way the brain processes the sound as it goes into the stem of the brain – you can have an instant reaction to a sound long before you have time to rationally process it, and [that] can really scare the hell out of you.”

Shaken-up viewers of The Zone of Interest have posted on social media about the impact of the film’s sound, calling it “chilling“, “nightmarish” and “soul-shattering“. One person commented: “I genuinely feel like they could put a trigger warning on The Zone of Interest, for the sound design.” The film ends with the audience typically in stunned, shell-shocked silence as a closing musical track – an assault of choral wailing in crescendo by Levi – plays out. It’s an incredibly difficult watch, and working on it day in, day out for several years took its toll on Burn too. “It was hard,” he says. “A few of us who worked on the post-production side of the film, the bit where we stitch together all the grim stuff, we all suffered a bit. We were quite low. It’s a horrible place to be in and not something I’d ever really want to do again.”

After watching the film, I reflected on how, as it progressed, I had subconsciously begun to become desensitised to the sounds, or partially blocked them out. This is a common reaction, Burn says. “I experienced that too – it’s exactly for that reason the sounds in the film actually get marginally louder as the film goes on because we dial [them] out. It’s really weird, as a human you end up thinking, ‘it’s just another scream, I can dial that out, fine’.”

This very fact acts as a stark and disturbing allegory for the film as a whole, Burn adds: “That’s what Jonathan’s trying to say, we’re all on that slippery slope [to desensitisation]. The film is about what humans do to other humans, so let’s try and get rid of this violence.” 

The Zone of Interest is out in cinemas in the US and UK now

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