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Soundtrack review: Survivors guide to prison (Sebastian Robinson – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Survivors guide to prison (Sebastian Robinson – 2018)



“Survivors Guide to Prison” is a 2018 documentary film directed by Matthew Cooke exploring the United States prison system, largely through the lens of two wrongly convicted men, Reggie Cole and Bruce Lisker. The film, narrated by Cooke and Susan Sarandon, focuses on problems one might face against the prison system via segments covering topics such as plea bargains, solitary confinement, and the difficulties of life after prison. The movie features interviews with former prison inmates, police officers, court officials, lawyers, and journalists, as well as many appearances by celebrities such as Danny Glover, B-Real, Macklemore, Deepak Chopra, RZA, Busta Rhymes, Quincy Jones, Tom Morello, Wayne Kramer, Ice T, and Danny Trejo. Some of the celebrities interviewed are themselves former prison inmates. The film was executive produced by Adrian Grenier and Susan Sarandon.Sebastian Robinson wrote the score.

It’s only natural that Danny Trejo is on the poster of this movie since he’s probably the most famous former inmate turned actor. The opening cue “Witness” is an uncomfortable atmospheric piece that evokes quite properly he idea of the beginning of a claustrophobic situation; there’s a melodic piano core as well that fits nicely and it’s a warm introduction to the score. Just as a huge cloud suddenly darkens the day the mood changes as the chilling and abrasive “Antisocial” comes on. The music is still quiet, still atmospheric but less pleasant. This is a raw, honest documentary about a harsh reality and the composer goes with that as well in his music.

I am a fan of minimalism in music and I also appreciate when a composer truly gets involved with his creation and doesn’t let it turn generic. Sebastian Robinson creates a dark and cold texture and at times, the way the metallic sting in his music blends with a sudden melodic insert like in “Baby’s breath” makes me think of the way Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross make music; once again, for those who are not fans, I am referring to the more melodic parts of their scores.

Sebastian Robinson balances the dark uncomfortable moments with pieces of true ambient grandeur; I am invested in this score from start to finish and at no time do I feel anything is out of place; I believe the creepy moments like “Consume” as much as I do smiles like “Seasons”. I am very curious to see this documentary and hear how the score fits in context; I am glad that the music makes sense as a standalone listen as well and for those who appreciate the minimalistic, guitar driver road trip movie like sound that’s been present lately in film music, “Survivors guide to prison” will work. It’s a nice little score to underline the big tough moments from the documentary.

Cue rating: 79 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 6 / 25

Album excellence: 23%

03 Baby’s Breath
05 Seasons

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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