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Soundtrack review: Lowlife (Kreng – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Lowlife (Kreng – 2018)

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What happens when you throw together a fallen Mexican wrestler with serious rage issues, a just-out-of-prison ex-con with a regrettable face tattoo, and a recovering junkie motel owner in search of a kidney? That’s the premise of the berserk, blood-spattered, and wickedly entertaining feature debut from Ryan Prows. Set amidst the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, Lowlife zigzags back and forth in time as it charts how fate–and a ruthless crime boss–connects three down-and-out reprobates mixed up in an organ harvesting scheme that goes from bad to worse to off-the-rails insane. Careening from savagely funny to just plain savage to unexpectedly heartfelt, this audacious thriller serves up nonstop adrenaline alongside hard-hitting commentary about the state of contemporary America. Belgian musician Kreng wrote the score and his usually weird sound is just what a story like this needs.

The title cue “Lowlife” opens the score and the composer uses screeching, tortured strings to evoke both an atmosphere of frantic movements but also a shady, almost horror like environment. I like this thick mood as it instantly transports me into the unpleasant world of this story. There’s another side to this, a more melodic and warm side and Kreng shows it to us right away in “Teddy’s lair”; here the electronic discomfort is balanced with a quiet and shy string motif that shows emotion. I always like to hear a barely touched string motif like this as the sound is like a broken whisper. Add a touch of piano that floats like a careless pieces of lime in a glass of rum and you get a dark atmosphere that’s not all uncomfortable and mean.

I like the tonal variations in this score because it gives it a sense of evolving, of life happening, not just dry sounds to support some images. I always prefer it when the score itself tells me a story and lets me create my own images and the way the music moves from piano to louder industrial discomfort to tortured strings that immediately make me think of horror movies and then all the way back into hiding appeals to me. Kreng could write horror scores without trouble as I can get from the robust “El Monstruo awakes”. As tender and melodic strings are, sometimes they are meant to be tortured like this.

The composer also throws surprises like the very intense “The shrine” which has serious drama written all over it. There is also a sense of constant doom, Coen Brothers like, in the music. I don’t need to see the movie to know that this will not end well. The score for “Lowlife” makes me think and feel and this makes for a rewarding standalone listen. I must admit I was expecting a strange but linear score and instead I got a more complex composition that for sure does the movie justice as it moves in the same alert and chaotic manner as the story itself. There are some very industrial electronic pieces, mostly in the second half of the score when I imagine the story takes an even worse turn which might make some listeners frown but in the end the album is a mix of suspenseful thriller and horror and, for me an evolution and a maturing of Kreng’s sound.

Cue rating: 74 / 100

Highlights:
El Monstruo Awakes
The Shrine
Are You My Mom – 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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