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Soundtrack review: The little stranger (Stephen Rennicks – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: The little stranger (Stephen Rennicks – 2018)

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“The Little Stranger” is a 2018 British-Irish gothic drama film directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Lucinda Coxon, based on the novel of same name by Sarah Waters. The film stars Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, and Charlotte Rampling. Set in 1948, the plot follows a doctor who visits an old house his mother used to work at, only to discover it may hold a dark secret. Stephen Rennicks wrote the score.

Is it just me or when a movie is dubbed as an Irish drama some traditional Celtic inserts should be expected in the music? There are some ethnic sounds, like Celtic or Asian that could anchor the score in the respective area, give a bit of context. I digress though. So there is no trace of a traditional music and my gripe is only because Celtic is my favourite kind of traditional music. The score itself flows at its own quiet pace as I am writing these thoughts. It’s obvious right from the start that this is the kind of album that relies on texture rather than themes or motifs, an album you could play from any given cue and in any given order and not change the standalone listening experience. The cues are quietly similar with subtle variations and the mood doesn’t change much. “The little stranger” is an ordered score with very few moments when something happens. TO make a bit of a joke, it suits the idea of British period drama because things there move slowly, elegantly as if time stands still.

Time seems to stand still in this score and the sensation of listening to it is like staring at a painting that after enough time seems to be moving. Stephen Rennicks is a master of minimalism and in the few moments when the music gets louder, and graver I am almost startled at the change. These moments, like “Dog attack” are rare enough to become poignant and memorable. Other times, most of the times actually I am amazed at how the composer manages to contain and restrict the music, to keep it from getting out of line, as if each instrument or each soloist playing an instrument was walking the tight wire while recording this score.

Once I get used to this pace and pay close attention I discover pleasant nuances in the music, be they a flute motif, a sombre cello passage or the dripping piano. The music is elegant, annoyingly clean and elegant even. I have rarely heard a score written like this, such a wonderful miniature, a snow globe of a score. Definitely listen to it to hear a unique display of orchestral minimalism taken to the extreme. Only at the end did I realise that it had no fewer than 36 cues. It didn’t matter. It could have had three and the atmosphere and degree of enjoyment wouldn’t have changed.

Cue rating: 67 / 100

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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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