You Probably Never Noticed These Screaming Sounds In Sicario

Denis Villeneuve is a director with an ambitious vision, as seen in projects such as "Arrival" and "Blade Runner 2049." Creating films as massive as those requires incredible attention to detail, as well as a strong production team. Luckily, Villeneuve has both. "Arrival" earned a slew of award nominations, and the Roger Deakins' cinematography in "Blade Runner 2049" won Deakins the Academy Award the following year. "Sicario" is another film with great attention to detail on both a storytelling and technical level, receiving three Academy Award nominations for cinematography, original score, and sound editing.

Sound editing in a film is a technical aspect that can sometimes be overlooked when watching a movie, so no one would blame you if you didn't notice the more minute details in the film. One such aspect that may have gone unnoticed is the screaming sounds in a scene in "Sicario." The sound effect is a disturbing one that's easy to miss, given the scene it's in has other loud sound effects that hide it. However, it's a small and crucial addition that shows the under-looked power of sound design in movies.

Sounds that convey a mindset

In a video uploaded to his YouTube channel, editor Joe Walker briefly explained his use of the metasynth audio program in "Sicario" to mask the sound effect of a woman screaming in the scene in which the character of Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro) is first introduced. The audience sees Gillick sleeping, and it's clear he's having a nightmare when he abruptly wakes up. Walker overlaid the screaming sound effect with the sounds of the jet that the scene takes place in to help exemplify what was going through the character's psyche while he slept:

"Something we used in 'Sicario' was trying to convey what was inside Benicio Del Toro's mind when he was having a nightmare on a private jet. We took the sound of a woman screaming, a very short sound, and we used metasynth and extended it, and we put it under the sound of the jet engines. The sounds were made in metasynth and feathered under the jet, so it kind of conveys the scream without really hearing it."

The effect is highly subtle, making it easy to miss. However, the subconscious effect audio can have on an audience when watching a film shouldn't be taken lightly. This small addition of audio to Alejandro's introduction helps viewers realize that he is an individual troubled by his past, showing that you don't need exposition to tell a story.

Structuring a film around sound

Audio has always been a powerful tool to help enhance a film, even subconsciously. One such film that employs audio effects to an incredible degree is 2017's "Dunkirk," directed by Christopher Nolan. According to Nolan, both the screenplay of the film and the musical score (composed by Hans Zimmer) were structured around something known as "Shepard Tone." For those unfamiliar with "Shepard Tone," Chris Nolan explained the principle in a 2017 interview with Business Insider:

"It's an illusion where there's a continuing ascension of tone. It's a corkscrew effect. It's always going up and up and up, but it never goes outside of its range. And I wrote the script according to that principle. So I wanted to build the music on similar mathematical principles ... Very early on, I sent Hans a recording that I made of a watch that I own with a particularly insistent ticking. We started to build the track out of that sound, and then, working from that sound, we built the music as we built the picture cut. So there's a fusion of music and sound effects and picture that we've never been able to achieve before."

Basing a score on the ticking of the director's watch is another example of incredible sound design. The ability to build a story around the emotions a sound evokes from viewers is impressive. "Sicario" and "Dunkirk" show how important all the little details are for creating an engaging film.