The Masking Threshold (PANIC) of Horror Is High in This Indie Gem
Title: Masking Threshold
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Johannes Grezfurthner
Writer: Johannes Grezfurthner, Samantha Lienhard
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Starring: Ethan Haslam, Johannes Grezfurthner, Katharina Rose
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Panic Film Festival in 2022.
A man (Ethan Haslam, voice; Johannes Grezfurthner, corporeal) struggles with his unshakable affliction of tinnitus. After seeking out answers from every doctor, lab, and online forum possible, he decides to work out the answer to his ailment himself. Using his background knowledge of science from his recently abandoned doctorate in physics, he attempts to discern what causes the unceasing noise and if there is a way to stop it. The farther he descends, the more volatile his behavior and the further reaching his conclusions become. Once he makes a breakthrough, however, he becomes unstoppable.
Terrifying commentary on conspiracy theories, mental health, and online culture, Masking Threshold uncovers the darkness we belittle.
Masking Threshold is another take on the subgenre of horror dedicated to men slowly losing their mind before ending everything in violence. The entire film reads like the manifesto of an incel mass shooter, only through the lens of a gay man unable to come to terms with his auditory processing disorder. This is whole-heartedly a compliment, as Masking Threshold never teeters into silliness, which is incredibly easy to do with this type of character. And the Protagonist of Masking Threshold is fascinating in many ways.
At its core, Masking Threshold is a character study on a very particular and dangerous phenomenon that is becoming more common by the day. The man at the center of Masking Threshold is a fascinating critique of the conspiracy theory laden internet culture that allows those struggling to drown in their own bile for the whole world to see. Regardless of his claims involving his tinnitus, he represents an increasingly large part of society that is getting lost in the shuffle of rapidly evolving technology, increased polarized social interactions, and toxic discourse. This is by no means an attempt to absolve these individuals of their actions, but Masking Threshold presents a good argument showing how the problem continues unchecked.
At the very beginning of the film, this man has accepted that no one takes him seriously and no one can help, since his doctors informed him that there is no cure for his ailment. He whole-heartedly believes that he must embark on a journey to solve a complex neurological condition without any of the proper training or supervision. His dismissal only fuels his fire to continue. His attempts to communicate with others are met with disregard even despite good intentions. Neighbors want to help, his boss gives him space, and his own mother tries researching home cures. Of course, none of this helps and the Protagonist slips further away from humanity as these support lines crumble. Online trolling escalates this, as the one person this man believes is on his side is a faceless weirdo trying to get a laugh out of his bizarre videos. The more rapid dissolution of his already deteriorating humanity begins when he loses that last lifeboat.
While there are moments where the voice acting and the physical acting do not match up, both Ethan Haslam and Johannes Grezfurthner do a fantastic job of portraying the troubled man. Part of what makes this dark, slow-burn so chilling is the commitment to the descent into insanity of this man. The depth of bitterness in his voice and the clinical manner in which he physically conducts the work tells even more about him that the very words he writes in his online video journals.
With incessant sound being the center of attention, Masking Threshold makes use of its premise to garner as much sympathy for its protagonist as possible. Even in small doses the dull hum of the sound blossoms into a steady roar, unencumbered by the man’s distress or our momentary discomfort. Impressive editing allows the film to transition seamlessly between moments in time while making it clear that time is elapsing. Scenes blur together, implications are made to the next strange or horrific thing unfolding on screen, and the world builds to a complex network of connections that could only make sense to the most crazed of believers.
Metaphorically unnerving, Masking Threshold allows viewers to enter a world that remains only a punch line to those lucky enough to avoid it on the shallowest corners of the internet. The unraveling of a deeply unwell man proves just as upsetting as it is eye-opening. While many are sympathetic to the likes of people like the main character, few are equipped to intervene, much less help divert their efforts into something that can truly help them. Immersive sound design, tight editing, and an uncomfortable front row seat style of camerawork forces audiences to acquaint themselves with the possibility that someone like this man is in their lives right now and they are in desperate need of help. This truth might be the most horrific thing about Masking Threshold, and it makes this movie one not only to see, but to truly hear.
Overall Score? 7/10