Dramatic Underscoring is our regular column by Marcella Hemmeter reviewing soundtrack albums from movies current and forgotten. This edition covers 2014's It Follows.
One of the hardest films to make well is a horror film. The genre’s fans are notoriously hard to please. The difficulty tends to lie with the horror-fan’s breadth of knowledge and trying to figure out how to blaze new ground while also giving that nod to what came before. But that’s what It Follows does, trusting that jaded audiences can still enjoy a suspenseful supernatural thriller with honest-to-goodness chills. It’s able to concoct the perfect blend of the familiar with the new, setting new horror benchmarks while retaining, if playing with, some of the classic horror tropes such as the one where the teen or college-age kid who has sex in the film gets killed. In other words, sex kills. It Follows plot: a college student, Jay, has sex with a guy she’s been dating who it turns out is cursed and, like a sexually transmitted disease, he’s passed the curse on to her. The result is a relentless monster or demon creature that can look like anyone, out to break limbs and crush its victims. Sex literally kills. The plot seems ridiculous on the surface but you can rest assured this is a horror film with punch and terror and comes with a score that is equally terrifying and tension-building.
Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover), It Follows debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014, getting a theatrical release the following year. Budgeted at $2 million it raked in about $20 million at the box office, and continues to hold a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Some folks call it a throwback horror flick but what they really mean is that it doesn’t rely on gore to freak out audiences. It uses suspense, letting the situation and music build the tension and paranoia. Plus, this is a horror film that gets you thinking about the multiple themes involved. You get the first layer with the demon-as-STD but there’s also the fear of the inevitable death we all face and the fear of adulthood. The music only adds to this subtext making for a very original and hard-hitting film. The score was composed by Disasterpeace, aka Rich Vreeland, better known for his video game soundtrack work such as the Fez soundtrack. But if you think this is going to sound like some Pole Position score you’d be wrong. It is haunting and ominous, adding atmospheric tones and dissonance to heighten the film’s spooky action while expertly using melodic synths to highlight the characters’ thoughts and emotions.
Disasterpeace’s score provides multiple recurring motifs such as the loud Psycho-like metallic screeches or the high-pitched circular saw sounds, both heard when the demon is near. There are also very minimalist, almost ambient-like cue pieces that, when combined with the subtle and beautiful cinematography, work to mislead the audience into looking for danger at different moments, keeping us on our fearful toes. Probably one of the best things about this score is how it brings to mind John Carpenter, the master of the ‘80s horror synth score. Listen to “Title” or watch Jay and her sister walk home in their suburban Detroit neighborhood and try not to think of Halloween. A melancholic theme, “Jay,” accompanies our heroine who is not some happy go-lucky young woman; there’s an introspection here, an almost sadness. Shots of framed pictures of her as a little girl with her dad, and the absence of the dad, make us think maybe he has passed away. As she proceeds to be unhinged by impending death in a terrific performance by Maika Monroe, the music spirals down with her. There’s no escape for Jay except to pass on the curse and hope the next person stays alive.
The dark melodic undertones continue throughout, especially on “Detroit,” where Jay and her friends set out to find Hugh, the guy who cursed her, driving through run-down neighborhoods. Later when the friends eventually come up with a plan to kill the demon at a university pool, like any good ensemble thriller, the deliberate style and tone of the score tempers the optimism. “Pool” does an excellent job of underlining the stress they’re under and layering the dread as they prepare for the demon. But Jay’s not confident it’ll work and neither are we so when the demon shows up in the form of Jay’s father, easily unraveling their plan, it’s just one big cluster-fuck. “Father” which accompanies this final confrontation is full of climactic drones and percussion and the score ends with “Linger,” providing slow synth tones to match with the ambiguous ending which is quiet and thought-provoking.
It Follows demonstrates that true horror can come from waiting for the unknown. The music by itself is strange and beautiful but when paired with the film it is a downright synth masterpiece. See this film and revel in this Disasterpeace score. If you’re a fan of old school suspenseful horror you will be thrilled and if you’re a diehard fan of hardcore splatter-torture-gore looking for a refreshing change of pace, look no further. You will not be disappointed.
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