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Soundtrack review: Maniac (Dan Romer – 2018)

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Soundtrack review: Maniac (Dan Romer – 2018)

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“Maniac” is an American psychological dark comedy-drama web television miniseries based on the Norwegian television series of the same name by Espen PA Lervaag, Håkon Bast Mossige, Kjetil Indregard, and Ole Marius Araldsen, that premiered on September 21, 2018 on Netflix. The series, created by Patrick Somerville and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, follows two strangers who connect during a mind-bending pharmaceutical trial. It stars Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux, Sonoya Mizuno, Gabriel Byrne, and Sally Field. Maniac follows “Annie Landsberg and Owen Milgrim, two strangers drawn to the late stages of a mysterious pharmaceutical trial, each for their own reasons. Neither of their lives have turned out quite right, and the promise of a new, radical kind of pharmaceutical treatment—a sequence of pills its inventor, Dr. James K. Mantleray, claims can repair anything about the mind, be it mental illness or heartbreak—draws them and ten other strangers to the facilities of Neberdine Pharmaceutical and Biotech for a three-day drug trial that will, they’re assured, with no complications or side-effects whatsoever, solve all of their problems, permanently. Dan Romer wrote the score.

Having seen a few episodes of this show helps with the overall understanding and enjoyment of the score; the show has both dramatic and comedic parts and there are moments when irony takes over so Dan Romer had to incorporate these elements in his music; the score is whimsical,playful and as I am listening to the jumpy melodic motifs or the sudden cello driven passages I understand why Dan Romer was the best choice to write it: his minimalistic style can get quirky in an instant and this is what “Maniac” needed. I like how two diverging sounds alternated in this album, the playful electronic one, punchy and fast moving, and the more ambient parts that burn slower and address the dramatic portions of the show. Both sounds get repetitive at times but this also fits into the narrative of the show; short motifs recur and for me the composer wrote a specific one for each important aspect of the show, be it one of the characters, the psychological controls, the pills.

A textural score like this will always work better with the support of the on screen images; the standalone listening experiment often feels fragmented and repetitive. This is always a risk with textural compositions. The dominant sound of the score feels like a constant ticking or clicking, there’s always something like this popping every other cue. The chiming sounds help evoke the idea of illusions, of fantasies. This is the best thing about the score, that it manages to stay hazy and hypnotic from beginning to end. I am more drawn to the few quiet ambient tracks, like “Force of nature”. This is the Dan Romer I’ve connected with right from the first score of his I heard.

“Maniac” is a light and quirky minimalistic score that is a fun one time listen on its own, especially when it turns to dramatic for the last few cues, starting with “Love unconditionally”. That is the part I would return to outside the context of the show. The music does help bring to the listener the atmosphere of the series and this is my main takeaway from it.

Cue rating: 75 / 100

Highlights
Force of Nature
Sisters
Love Unconditionally
Back for Revenge

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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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