We have a new Peter Strickland film to consider - or at least a new Peter Strickland short. Perhaps it was inevitable that the director behind the Dolby-testing Berberian Sound Studio would eventually be drawn towards the field of ASMR (a.k.a. "enjoying listening to nice noises", you know, like people have since the dawn of time), which appears to have replaced light bondage as 2020's most mainstream and universally accepted fetish. Cold Meridian initially throws us by promising film of a rehearsal for a performance, shot at the Budapest Dance Academy exactly one year ago - film we only fleetingly get to see towards the end of these six minutes, and then in grainy, black-and-white Super-8. What we see, in the meantime, proves less significant than what we hear. Strickland has laid on a sonic smorgasbord with the aim of tickling the inside of even the least sensitive of ears: thick curls of hair being shampooed, items being inserted into and removed from cellophane, pencil busying itself over paper, and - binding everything on screen together - the breathy whisper of a female narrator who seems very keen to impress on us how many people have undergone this experience before us. (Less relaxing this, evoking as it does that most contemporary concern that our laptops - the device on which Cold Meridian will be most widely accessed this weekend - know more about our habits and desires than anybody else in the universe.) There's a clear contrast between the images' relative stillness and the effervescent busyness of that soundtrack: even when we get the performance footage we were promised - of a naked couple throwing one another around - it comes as a stop-start of surveillance-photo negatives and erratically paused frames, something for the eyes to linger on while the ears go into hyperdrive. Strickland has taken a moment of actual, documented reality and tricked it out into a The Conversation-like conspiracy in which the viewer is invited to play an active part, as voyeur or eavesdropper or both simultaneously. Heads will doubtless be scratched - which might generate a nice noise in itself, one supposes - but it's a crafty little reminder that its creator is currently second-to-none when it comes to fostering such layered kinkiness.
Cold Meridian will be available to stream via MUBI from Friday.