I must admit Iím partial to do-it-all creative types. Perhaps itís an
admiration for talent; perhaps itís a suspicion that a single vision can produce a
higher art; or perhaps itís just that for a critic it makes it real easy to know
where to point the praise . . . or lay the blame.
Happily, itís all laurels here for writer/director/composer, Alejandro AmenŠbar.
Most actors will tell you that the average director comes with an in-built God-complex, so
it probably wonít surprise the thespian brigade to find one in the form of a Trinity.
Taking on the first two roles is commonplace, so itís AmenŠbarís music that
comes under the microscope. Such omnipresence, such dissolution of artistic demarcation,
could easily be either blessing or blight on the creatorís own creation. Yet
AmenŠbarís score isnít only suitable for his film, it is a superb work in its
Horror/thriller soundtracks arenít immediately suggestive of great entertainment
in themselves. What are you going to get? A lot of understated, unsettling ambience with a
few clanging jolts that have no relevance except to support visual surprises? Ah, how
easily our expectations are stifled by the plodding purveyors of a genre. AmenŠbar, on
the other hand, has an expansive take. The mood here is a throwback to classic Gothic
creepiness, and it is quietly, compellingly and masterfully evoked by his score.
For some reason denizens of Other Worlds seem to have a great sensitivity to Earthly
locality. Over in the USA they spook us out with Elf-Man-styled epic choruses and manic,
cascading strings. Back in England, haunting is more mannered, though every bit as
menacing. And AmenŠbarís spectral sensibility is spot on. From the opening
cueís melodic woodwinds we are seduced with ambiguity. It isnít the
psychological ambiguity of The Turn Of The Screw; but it has that same sense of something
sinister lurking in the midst of an idyllic countryside and its grand old manors. The
screw is twisted sharp to the supernatural here, with that finely tuned perception that
the scariest notions lay just a notch away from innocence and imagination.
This orchestral work is full of rich timbres from solo instruments and small sections.
It is the antithesis of the big bombastic Hollywood sound. AmenŠbar demonstrates a
wonderful talent for short, captivating phrases that melt into each other, evolving by
degrees. Instead of big, repetitive motifs to hook us in, there is an intricate web of
melodic development to tweak our innermost fears. Close your eyes and you will be caught
up in a sense of the surreal, but donít be fooled into categorising this as The
Seventh Sense. AmenŠbarís score isnít innovative but it has a distinctive
characteristic, most evident in the effectiveness of its restraint. Not the restraint of
minimalist melodies, but the measured pacing of violin-led dramatic cues and the deft use
of space in the instrumentation.
To top it all off AmenŠbarís liner notes display a charming humility. (Whereas I
would have suspected it required a big head to wear his three creative hats.) "I just
feel sorry for my flatmates, who have had to suffer my less than inspired moments,"
he writes. Any composer knows that the vicissitudes of creation arenít always pretty,
but itís the final result that counts. I trust AmenŠbarís flatmates got a copy
of this soundtrack. If so, theyíve been so thoroughly compensated that they should be
doing AmenŠbarís housework for a year. Unless, of course, they listened to it with
the curtains drawn. In which case his only remaining flatmates are doubtless the ghosts of
Published May 2, 2002