- Composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson
- WaterTower Music / 2013 / 55m
Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners is an action movie in which Hugh Jackman plays a man forced to take matters into his own hands when he is unsatisfied with the police response (led by Jake Gyllenhaal) to his daughter and her friend going missing. It’s a well-covered topic already, but the film has garnered very strong advance reviews. The film’s score is a huge surprise. It’s by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, working on by far his highest-profile assignment to date; but that’s not the surprise. The music, by design, plays entirely contrarily to expectations, contrasting with and in doing so attempting to heighten the tense action. The music is generally low-key, slow moving and at times one might even say uneventful, yet somehow it achieves its aim – it is incredibly tense.
The orchestra of strings and winds is joined occasionally by subtle keyboards and by a cristal bachet (similar to a glass harmonica) and ondes martenot (though this is not even vaguely the ondes sound of Elmer Bernstein). The result is hypnotic – it’s hard to explain exactly why, but somehow the composer has written music that envelops the listener, draws him in, won’t let go. A very simple descending theme dominates the entire score – lyrical, beautiful in some ways, but so slow moving – yet always seeming to flow by, calmly carrying the listener along. Just occasionally Jóhannsson will introduce a new texture – the cello solo that appears from nowhere in “Escape”, later joined by a distant vocal – and there’s a jolt to the senses, a sudden tension while trying to process what’s happened. It’s very cleverly done, very impressive – the album requires patience, certainly, and then it does offer rewards. I can’t bring myself to love it, exactly, but it’s very nice to hear such a radical approach to a film like this, something entirely different from what might be expected.