- Composed by Scott Glasgow
- Varèse Sarabande / 2013 / 66m
A horror thriller directed by John O. Hartman and Nicholas Mross, Riddle stars Elisabeth Harnois as a girl drawn to a town called Riddle in Pennsylvania in search of her missing brother. Val Kilmer plays the local sheriff, not impressed by her investigations; and dark secrets are uncovered. The film hasn’t received good reviews, apart from one aspect (and you can guess which one it is) – its score by Scott Glasgow has attracted an unusual amount of interest for a film that disappeared under the radar so much – and it’s really not hard to see why.
Since first entering my radar with his wonderful 2007 score to Hack!, Glasgow has consistently impressed. He’s an old-school orchestral film composer – which I mean as a great compliment, if there’s any doubt – who has worked his way up in his profession the right way – through training and hard work. Riddle is a wonderful score which tips its hat to a few classics along the way, but which manages to have its own very strong musical voice.
It opens with the impressive “Prelude”, bold strokes of beauty gradually giving hints at what’s to come. There’s a bit of action in “Signs of Nate” before the chills really arrive for the first time, in the outstanding “Down the Rabbit Hole”, which hints at the bold style and orchestral mastery of Elliot Goldenthal, a composer whose voice in film is sorely missed. One challenge for composers of horror films (well, except outright gore-fests) is how to score the “impending doom” in the earlier parts of the film when things are being set up – and Glasgow really shines in these moments. The cellular approach taken to “Missing” is very effective – something Bernard Herrmann often did, taking a small figure and changing it, repeating it, building on it, regressing back to it. It’s mesmerising music.
There’s real beauty here, too – the exquisite “Sheriff”, the music box lullaby innocence of the main theme (heard frequently but certainly not overused) contrasting with the chilling strings that usually accompany it. The piano theme that emerges in “Homesick” – later taken up by the sweeping strings of the Slovakian orchestra – is a gorgeous moment of light that emerges from – but doesn’t take away from – the very carefully-constructed suspense.
Glasgow takes the listener on a real journey here. I suspect that one quality is what drew a lot of people like me (and possibly you) towards film music in the first place – even if subconsciously – while some people are in it to get musical souvenirs of films, and those are the people targeted by all the complete-and-chronological releases – another group has been drawn to the music because of its dramatic qualities. The sense of a story being told through music is what is so abundant in Riddle, and so impressive – the composer works so hard to create an atmosphere, draw the listener into a web of mystery and suspense – that when all that tension is relieved in the thunderous climax to the score, it feels entirely earned. My single biggest criticism of a lot of modern film music is that it’s lost that – by treating every scene in a film as if it’s the most important, it ends up making nothing seem important. All those scores composed by committee, with dozens of “additional composers” – they can never take a singular vision and execute it the way Glasgow does here. He plots a path, he sticks to it.
Best of all, he does it with real compositional class – you know when you hear the plucked strings of “Booby Traps”, energetic and ever-moving and quite chilling – that you’re listening to music by someone who truly knows his way around an orchestra. And it’s in that track that the score really steps up a gear in its overt chills – the following “Confrontation with a Madman” is a scary piece of action music, then “Run For Your Life” a breathlessly exciting prelude to one of the score’s outstanding pieces, “Sanatorium”, where the thrills and chills reach epic proportions. “Shock Treatment” is the first of the three-part finale and sees the scares laid on thick by the pounding brass and percussion and shrieking strings.
The other two parts are the score’s most impressive of all. In “Aftermath”, the pace slows but the dramatic flair does not – again I am slightly reminded of Goldenthal in the way Glasgow builds layer upon layer of strings, and he wrings every ounce of emotion from the listener he can – it’s extremely powerful stuff. “Denouement” completes the score’s journey – a piece filled with warmth. There is such elegance to this music, it’s a pleasure to listen to; and easily the finest new film score I’ve heard so far in 2013. Scott Glasgow’s is one of the most impressive new voices to have emerged in film music in recent times – and I hope he can continue his rise.
Rating: **** 1/2