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Soundtrack review: IT (Benjamin Wallfisch – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: IT (Benjamin Wallfisch – 2017)

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It (Also Known As It Part 1 The Losers Club) is an upcoming American supernatural horror film based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name. it is intended to be the first instalment in a planned duo logy. The novel was previously adapted into a 1990 miniseries. The film tells the story of seven children in Derry, Maine, who are terrorised by the eponymous being, only to face their own personal demons in the process. I am an avid Stephen King reader and fan and has been so for almost 30 years and while not my favourite SK story, “IT” certainly is his magnum opus. It is not an easy novel to read but it’s worth it; the movie will focus on the first volume with the main characters as kids while the second part will deal with them as adults. The irony is not lost that the previous adaptation was 27 years ago as PennyWise the clown appears every 27 years and this is the time lapse between the two volumes. Benjamin Wallfisch wrote the score and when he is not helping Hans Zimmer he is carving quite a name for himself especially in the horror genre and to me right now him and Joseph Bishara are the go to names to write music for scary movies. Just a month ago we had his score for “Annabelle: Creation” which was quite difficult to review out of context as it needed the movie to be complete. Knowing the story and knowing so well how Stephen King deals with kids as characters I fully expect this score to be both scary and emotional. I am reviewing the 37 track version. The main theme “Every 27 years” sounds just like I imagined it would: a mysterious piano motif meets an darker string motif in a cue that’s made for the opening credits of an idyllic but dangerous setting. I cannot listen to the music without having the story in the back of my head so when I hear “Paper boat” with its sweet and innocent beginning and its playful middle section my heart breaks because I have played that scene in my mind over and over since the first time I read the book, the scene where the little boy with the yellow rain coat disappears in the sewers while trying to recover his paper boat. The score unfolds much like a story as the prologue is melodic and creepy in the same time with the children’s choir. “Georgie, meet Pennywise” is worthy of a Stephen King story with its insanity and terror. The composer uses the children voice as an instrument of terror and it works. The music of “IT” is as layered and multidimensional as the story itself; don’t expect a straight up horror score with frights and not much more. The music moves like a live entity between quietly melodic, demonic scary, the illusion of a fairytale and frantic moments of action. “Egg boy” is one of the best horror cues I’ve heard this year with its mix of tortured strings, shrieks and things crawling up walls. When a cue like this is followed by the sweet piano of “Beverly” it shows the range of emotions this album has to offer. I imagine Benjamin Wallfisch had fun writing this one, especially the clown dance from “Come join the clown, Eds”; I wish this cue was longer, in fact I wish he would write an entire score around just this cue and I wish that a theme park was built to incorporate that score. But I digress. And they can incorporate “You’ll float too” in that park. This was one of the cues I’ve been looking forward the most since it should be the centre piece of terror and it’s indescribably scary, as it should be. The composer didn’t need a lot of sharp and rusty tools to make his point, just tortured strings, distorted voices and an evil way of combining them. Truth be told I almost tore the headphones off my ears during “Shape shifter”. I can’t get enough of just how good and efficient the music is. I feel as if I am living the story side by side with the main characters and this score is as captivating and immersive as the book was and it’s no small feat; Ben Wallfisch manages to recreate Derry, its inhabitants and the unspeakable horrors within in what is easily becoming one of my favourite horror scores of the past few years. I have said before, to me, the test is whether the music manages to scare me in a well lit room when I am not alone and the smartwatch on my wrist says my pulse is well above 100. The non scary cues are just as enjoyable as the “Every 27 years” theme recurs every now and then and other quietly emotional motifs help flesh out the characters, figuratively speaking this time. “Georgie’s theme” is the saddest cue of the score while “January embers” is another one that leaves me longing painfully for a longer version as it hits my ambient sweet spot; only a minute long but in cues like this I hear the potential of this composer and I am reminded, as I try to catch my breath from being chased around my terrifying musical entities, how well he can write in other genres as well. The beautiful quiet piano pieces from “IT” balance the evil in the horror cues. The first book of “IT” is a story about a group of friends, children, who have the strongest emotional bond between them and who have to fight for their lives against the most horrible and frightening entity. The book is huge and complex and I imagine how difficult it was for the filmmakers to squeeze it into two hours. It must have been even harder for Benjamin Wallfisch to take the essence of what make this story so fascinating, the love and coming together between these friends and the terror they had to face at that young age and encapsulate it in small musical doses. Ben managed to express musically what Stephen King did in writing: love, motivation, determination, sadness, delusion and a fear as big as to make everybody shiver for 27 more years. “IT” is a complex and dense composition that fills almost 90 minutes to the brim with the best music Benjamin Wallfisch has written so far; it’s not only his best horror score but to me it goes above even “Desert Dancer” which was my favourite score of his until now. It will be hard to listen to again in its entirety tomorrow or the day after because of how affecting and intense it is but I will return to it soon enough. I can’t wait to hear it in context. I don’t know if Stephen King listens to film music but I would be very curious to hear his opinion on this one. Maybe even he will be scared of what’s lurking in the corners of this composition and moved by the musical expression of the emotional moments he wrote about so many years ago. Cue rating: 97 / 100 Total minutes of excellence: 74 / 87 Album excellence: 85% Highlights: “Every 27 Years” “Paper Boat” “Georgie, Meet Pennywise” “Egg Boy” “Beverly” “Come Join the Clowns, Eds” “You’ll Float Too” “Shape Shifter” “Hockstetter Attack” “Haircut” “Derry History” “January Embers” “Saving Mike” “Georgie’s Theme” “He Didn’t Stutter Once” “Time to Float” “It’s What It Wants” “You’ll Die If You Try” “Return to Neibolt” “Into the Well” “Pennywise’s Tower” “Deadlights” “Searching for Stanley” “Saving Beverly” “Georgie Found” “Transformation” “Feed on Your Fear” “Welcome to the Losers Club” “Yellow Raincoat” “Blood Oath” “Kiss” “Every 27 Years (Reprise)” Epilogue – The Pennywise Dance  

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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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