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Psychological horror music chills and thrills

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Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Ryan Shore; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall

This psychological horror film didn't attract much attention, or indeed good reviews, but Andrew van der Houten's movie might be more notable to a select group of people around the world, namely film music fans.  It marks one of the latest, and more high-profile, scores by Ryan Shore, nephew of Howard, predicted by many to rise through the ranks and have a bright future ahead of him (he won the Elmer Bernstein Scoring Award, judged by Mr Bernstein personally, back in 2000 and his career has grown from there).

The film is about a man whose intellect suddenly grows out of all proportion, and so do his nightmares and, ultimately, daytime visions.  It's the sort of film that, had its budget been $50m higher, would have attracted a score by someone like Steve Jablonsky which would have consisted of a big orchestra doing virtually nothing, most of the composer's energies having been spent on creating complicated but irrelevant drum loops instead of thinking about how best to utilise the massive group of live players at his disposal.  Fortunately, in the hands of Shore, we get something completely different, with one of the most plain terrifying scores in a long time.

Shore worked with an 80-piece Bratislavan orchestra, but wisely chose to dial it down for large portions, creating intriguingly dark and confined textures mostly for strings and synths.  The music seems to enter your head, swirl around and try to somehow take over - and it nearly succeeds!  It's chillingly effective stuff, frequently challenging and difficult, but constantly rewarding.  Sometimes the chills are more overt, with occasional pieces written for the wider orchestra - the murky action music of "The Staircase" vaguely resembles music for similar projects by the composer's illustrious relative.  What I suppose is the "main theme" is a deeply disturbing piano solo, heard in the opening cue and periodically through the rest of the score, which seems to be inspired by Ligeti, in particular "Musica Ricercata II: Mesto, Rigido e Cerimonale" which was used to such good effect in Eyes Wide Shut.  It's an unnerving piece, particularly edgy and the tension it creates is tangible.  Shore ratchets things up again in "Brosi Pavlovsky" through the subtle incorporation of sound effects - don't run a mile! - the result is even more chilling than what's gone before.  After a piece of hard-hitting suspense ("The Bathroom") comes a choral piece, "Christe Spiritu", which is liturgical and rather gloomy.

In amongst all the doom and gloom, it's important - particularly given that the album runs for nearly an hour - that the listener isn't driven away, through judicious placement of some lighter material, and Shore wisely delivers here too.  "Phrenology" is a surprisingly-attractive waltz which, while being in complete contrast with what's around it, doesn't disrupt the album's flow at all.  Later, "Lady in Waiting" is a piece of jazz which is presumably source music, but again fits in dramatically with no problem.  "Chess" is a lovely relaxed piece which is the score's warmest, and stands alone by itself very well too.  

The disc ends with Shubert's "Ave Maria", given a lovely performance by soloist Katarina Silhavikova.  It rounds off an excellent album, perhaps not one that you'll listen to all the time, but one which achieves a brilliantly unsettling effect through clever composition and use of resources.  Like other releases from the Moviescore Media label, it is available for purchase by download only; it certainly comes recommended.


  1. Headspace (3:22)
  2. The Staircase (2:38)
  3. Therapy (2:22)
  4. The Hospital (1:53)
  5. Dr Gold (1:39)
  6. Brain Tests (2:15)
  7. The Wind Down (1:52)
  8. The Dot (2:02)
  9. Adoption Agency (1:49)
  10. Phrenology (2:15)
  11. Bulletin Board (2:15)
  12. Dr Murphy (2:23)
  13. Lady in Waiting (3:08)
  14. Boris Pavlovsky (3:48)
  15. The Birthday Party (2:00)
  16. The Bathroom (1:56)
  17. Christe Spiritu (4:21)
  18. Harry's Apartment (3:57)
  19. Chess (1:37)
  20. The Beast (5:28)
  21. Alex's Realisation (1:12)
  22. Ave Maria (3:02)