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Soundtrack review: Assassination nation (Ian Hultquist – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Assassination nation (Ian Hultquist – 2018)

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“Assassination Nation” is a 2018 American black comedy thriller film written and directed by Sam Levinson. It stars Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra, Anika Noni Rose, Colman Domingo, Maude Apatow, Joel McHale and Bella Thorne. High school senior Lily and her three best friends live in a world of selfies, emojis, snaps and sexts. But when their town of Salem is besieged by a massive data hack, resulting in half the citizens’ private info spewed into the public view, the community descends into anarchy. Lily is targeted after being falsely blamed for the hack—and bands together with her friends to survive a long, blood-soaked night. Ian Hultquist wrote the score.

As Ian has done all through 2018, he surprises me right from the opening cue “Major Bartlett” which is nothing more than a dense, menacing mist, almost a constant growl. His sonic experiments continue as he sets up a deep, tense electronic atmosphere that sucks me in from the get go. I instantly forget any expectations I might have had from this score as the composer goes into psychedelic wizard mode and casts reflective ambient spells one after another. As you know if you’ve been reading my reviews I am a huge fan of electronic ambient music and this year Ian Hulquist has dominated this genre. The music is in the same time warm and unnerving and it’s as chilling as it’s quiet. There are all sorts of contradictions in this score and minimalistic as it is it riles me up inside, it makes me ask questions, it makes me feel. I listen to “I’m not the monster you think I am” and have images of the tragic grandeur of characters like Frankenstein’s monster; the sound of this particular cue is deep, gothic and majestic in the same time. Mark it down for the list of best cues of 2018.

There is a depth in “Assassination nation” I surely didn’t expect to find. The plot of the movie feels a bit similar to the “Purge” franchise but the music, the music is completely different. I reminds me of elegiac, minimalistic scores like David Wingo’s “Maggie” which stunned me completely. Yes, the world Ian Hultquist describes is dangerous and cruel as the tone is anything but comforting but I am enjoying this hallucinatory mood, insane dissonant waltzes like “Half of Salem” which sounds like it could feature on an 80s arcade game score. Surprises like these are featured all through this score and there’s always a duality between the scary texture and the warm melodic motifs. Sometimes the composer improvises with bare, stripped percussion passages and just as raw synth sounds. It’s rare that I say this about the score but this one is quite unique, it’s as enjoyable as it’s uncomfortable to experience in some moments.

“Assassination Nation” is one of the best surprises of this year so far and puts Ian Hultquist firmly in contention for composer of the year; he just captures so many different emotional nuances simply by putting different sounds together to the point where a cue like “Assassination Nation”, less than a minute long, leaves me baffled with the combination of military melancholy and a Western like horn. How did he write this, how can he communicate so much with so little? I am sure that the next time I’ll listen to this score I will discover completely different sides of it. This score is a dark and deceiving labyrinth, a sardonic, scary, minimalistic satire. Put this one on your list, you won’t regret it. I think this is the closest to a David Lynch mood I’ve heard in film music.

Cue rating: 88 / 100

Highlights:
Mayor Bartlett
#FAIL
The Life & Texts of Principal Turrell
Internet Trolls
I’m Not the Monster You Think I Am
Half of Salem
Assassination Nation
Kiss Me
Be Gentle
Crimson
Surrender

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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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