Sombre, with its minimal dialogue and dusky atmosphere, is more like a dream or sensation than a narrative film—the kind of dream you barely remember but which can nevertheless stir emotion. Although there's plenty of sound and music—at one point we even hear the majority of Bauhaus' lengthy "Bela Lugosi's Dead"—it's easy for Sombre to sometimes feel a bit like a silent film, which I think is a testament to its visual qualities. It's basically two films spliced together: a European art film, and something more abstract and experimental.
And it pulses between these "two films" throughout. One is in focus, the other an impressionistic blur.
It could even be said that the two modes operate in a Jekyll-and-Hyde-like fashion similar to the film's protagonist. And, like him, the film is more Mr. Hyde.
Elephant was made with a style that best renders the chain of murders it depicts as brutal and without purpose, and in doing so it lacks even the slightest exposition. At first this ends up giving the deaths a matter of fact quality, perhaps best exemplified when the sound of a car zooming by outside can be heard while the camera stays with the lifeless body of a recently murdered man. Life goes on, and not many people are going to notice when you're gone. But the "indifferent" style of the film ends up compounding Clarke's intent, which was to bring attention to the frequent civilian murders that were taking place in Northern Ireland at the time (the Troubles)—murders that were largely ignored or being met with indifference everywhere else. The more objective the film strives to be, the more appalling and intolerable the never-ending cycle of violence and revenge becomes to the viewer.
Along with this stark, utterly real quality, Elephant also contains elements that very subtly make it feel somewhat "off." For example, the sound of footsteps (people, life, action) contrasted with large, open spaces in nearly vacant buildings. Patterns deliberately set up and then broken in order to confuse and disorient the viewer so it's not always clear who's hunting and who's being hunted. And two figures in a bright open space lit in such a way as to suggest walking shadows.