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Soundtrack review: A monster calls (Fernando Velazquez – 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: A monster calls (Fernando Velazquez – 2016)

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“A Monster Calls” is a 2016 dark fantasy drama film directed by J. A. Bayona and written by Patrick Ness, based on his novel of the same name. The film stars Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Lewis MacDougall, and Liam Neeson, and tells the story of Conor (MacDougal), a child whose mother (Jones) is terminally ill; one night, he is visited by a giant tree-like monster (Neeson), who states that he will come back each night and tell him three stories. Ah…Liam Neeson telling stories…he can come in any form, monster or not, with that voice and tell me stories every night. The score was written by Fernando Velazquez who just owned 2016 with a series of great scores. Since this is dark fantasy, it’s right up his alley and I’m expecting great things. And can the score please include voiceovers from Liam Neeson?

No matter how many scores of his I listen to, Velazquez still manages to impress and surprise me over and over again. The sweet piano beginning of “Connor wakes up / main title” almost fools me before a few moments of terror set me straight and then melody takes over again. Give me this combination of neurotic strings and calm piano and I’ll be happy. With the flute in the mix as well I get an opening cue that sets up the entire beautiful landscape of the score.

One of the most efficient suspense inducing techniques for me is to use trembling strings, going back and forth, unsure, cutting away at my self-confidence. The composer is a master of this way of keeping the listener of the edge; I am almost scared to listen to “Drawing” again. Then the monster wakes up  in another unpredictable mix of trembling strings, a dark choral part and a see saw of low key and loud that gives me the actual impression of a monster waking up.

As the score progresses I have to adjust mu expectation as this is not the usual Velazquez dark fantasy spectacle that makes me lose my breath; it’s more melodic and quiet at times and actually more beautiful than I expected. The piano plays a central part as it probably shows the inner world and emotions of the boy.

Then comes a cue like “The first tale” which shows just how good this composer is when given time to develop his themes. Listening to his score compared to others feels like going from browsing a regular picture book to a three dimensional one where the images just pop up and become more real. The mix between melodic and very scary works very well. There are sudden build ups that leave me breathless like the one in “Grandma’s clock / the second tail”; the music just takes off and I ride with it wherever it flies.

While quieter that I would have expected “A monster calls” shows yet another side of Fernando Velazquez, an emotional and reflective side that keeps the monsters at bay. The music is beautiful and sensitive and always fresh. Whatever he writes, I’ll listen. Whatever story he tells, I’ll be there to hear it.

Cue rating: 91 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 44 / 60

Album excellence: 73%

Highlights:

Conor Wakes Up / Main Title

Drawing

The Monster Wakes Up

The First Tale

The School

Grandma´s Clock / The Second Tale

Big Dreams

Montage

The Truth

End credits

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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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