Film scores

Soundtrack review: Swiss army man (Andy Hull and Robert McDowell – 2016)

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“Swiss Army Man” is a 2016 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Paul Dano. Hank, stranded on a deserted island and about to kill himself, notices a corpse washed up on the beach. He befriends it, naming it Manny, only to discover that his new friend can talk and has a myriad of supernatural abilities…which may help him get home. I can’t wait to see the movie. The score was written by  Andy Hull and Robert McDowell.

A whimsical movie like this couldn’t have an ordinary score. A story like this one could only have a score that would be an integral part of it and only work for it. I knew all that going in and the intro song delighted me with Paul Dano’s vocalizations and a joyful melodic line. I know a lot of people dislike vocalizations in a movie score but what the composers did here is different. They used the voice as another instrument. There aren’t any lyrics in the beginning, just ghosts of a voice. I read that Andy Hull and Robert McDowell wanted to write a score that would stay true to the setting so they tried to use instruments or sounds that could be found on that remote island. I believe “Where did you come from” as a hallucination. The music is minimalistic and it suits me best.

There are songs as well, tracks with lyrics but they fit the score because the instrumental background is the same minimalistic skeleton I’m already connected to. Besides the lyrics tell the story so actually this album works very well without the images. I don’t know how to explain it but the score is quite hypnotic to me and I was drawn to that island from the first seconds. All the choices of the composers make sense to me. I think “Swiss army man” has one of the best and most clever uses of the human voice in a score I’ve heard in a long long time. The A capella singing is done right and the actors themselves are doing a great job blending it with the instrumental part.

Another very intelligent gimmick is how the corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe doesn’t use words. The Paul Dano character might hear the words, but we only hear mumbling and vocal noises. Their conversations are done like that and somehow, strangely, I enjoy listening to them. This is what the score is all about: this whimsical duet of voices backed by very minimalistic music. Everything about “Swiss army man” is unique and delightful. I haven’t heard a score like this and I am happy to discover it. Open your minds to something different and try this one. For me it counts as one of the most special and inventive score of the year.

Cue rating: 93 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 30 / 47

Album excellence: 64%

Highlights:

Intro Song (feat. Paul Dano)

Where Did You Come From? (feat. Paul Dano)

Hank Drinks

History Of The Universe (feat. Daniel Radcliffe)

Fetishes (feat. Daniel Radcliffe)

When I Think About Mom (feat. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe)

Don’t Overthink Things

Loved Back To Life

Talk To Her (feat. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe)

Love Love (Manny’s Song) (feat. Daniel Radcliffe)

Montage (feat. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe)

Liar

The Big Raccoon

Goodbye / Hello (feat. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe)

Run Down The Mountain

Finale

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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