On the surface (so to speak), The Host seems to break a few rules. For example, showing the monster in the first reel of the film. But can a horror film really be successful by changing the rules?
The scoring and sound design are very held back while the situation is being established -- just another day along the river. As people on the shore discuss the weird thing under the bridge, we hear a scream and cut to a young girl and an older man watching an archery match. It's the sound of cheering and the filmmakers are playing on our fear with screams of delight. The old substitution trick.
The main attack music, consisting mostly of pounding drums is introduced when the beast is ashore. It's the pounding heartbeat, the pounding feet on the pavement and our primal fears rolled into one unrelenting sound.
As the scene progresses, the dissonant choir and brass give way to a diegetic element introduced with a whoosh to alert us to the shift. Diegetic sounds are elements within the storyline of the film. We see a lady listening to classical music, providing a break from the pounding score and comic relief; you know it's just a "story" don't you?
As the chase continues, the score adds a rising brassy cluster that reminds me of an elephant trumpet. Perfectly representing the massive beast on the loose.
The sound design takes an eerie turn when the young girl, Hyun-seo exits the trailer. At this point we know that people are screaming and running around, but she is preoccupied with the events on TV. She is so deeply in her own world that she hears only the soda fizzing from the can.
Gradually, she becomes aware of the screaming but the sound is drenched in reverb as if the panicked crowd is far away. They are not. This shows her transition to confusion and then fear.
Soon, a string-driven orchestral score begins to emerge and it feels like a traditional horror film. This is no accident. The musical change alerts us to a major shift in the film from impersonal chaos to personal tragedy.
Next, our worst fear is realized in a silent scream. The dynamic element of total silence signals the gravity of the event and prepares us for what follows.
The heart beat underscores the slow motion as we see Hyun-seo swept away. Again, silence with a gradual return to environmental sounds. The composer returns for the aftermath with classic creepy strings and we are back in familiar territory.
This is a brilliant 10 minute film sequence that makes we want to see and hear more from the director and composer.
(c) 2009 Carlos Garza
In addition to the mini film score reviews, you will find some of my technical reviews of products for film composers and sound designers. In the pipeline is a series on using Apple Logic for film music and sound design and interviews with some of today's top film composers. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!
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