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2016 in Review: A Soundtrack


It’s been a while since we did a review of the year’s soundtracks, so we drafted in frequent collaborator Tony Black – and head honcho at the TV and film music podcast Between The Notes – who put down his microphone in favour of writing down his thoughts on the top soundtracks of 2016. Plenty to consider before you vote in this year’s Failed Critics Awards.

Let’s be honest, it’s not been a great year at the movies has it, 2016? Not if you’re a major blockbuster at least. Oddly enough though, the same can’t quite be said for the scores to many of those films, dodgy or otherwise. David Ayer, Zack Snyder or even Scott Derrickson may have let you down, but Michael Giacchino, Clint Mansell or Cliff Martinez have been right on the money with their orchestral scores to some of this year’s most disappointing or divisive pictures.

Here are five scores to the biggest (and not necessarily best) movies that have troubled your multiplex that I consider to be composers close to the top of their respective games:

5 – THE WITCH (Mark Korven)

Just like you probably hadn’t heard of The Witch before early this year, chances are you won’t have heard of Canadian composer Mark Korven. He’s a new kid on the block. Much like how Robert Eggers wowed us with his debut feature, Korven backs him up with a score that drips remote, screeching, primeval terror and the coldness of the austere Puritan setting in which Eggers tells his chilling tale. It’s not Sunday afternoon easy listening, but it’s one of the best horror/chiller scores in years.

Standout track: Caleb’s Seduction

4 – STAR TREK BEYOND (Michael Giacchino)

The new master and heir apparent to John Williams; it’s rare Michael Giacchino has a bad year. After a stonking 2015 scoring a raft of average movies with stunning music, he delivers this year both with Doctor Strange and even more so Star Trek Beyond. It’s his third score for the JJ Abrams spearheaded revival of the classic TV score and it’s possibly his best yet, a heady mixture of iconic, reworked themes with powerful, thrilling brass and an elegant sense of galactic scope. Plus you’ll always have a good laugh at the wonderful puns that litter the names of his cues, as if you needed more of a reason to listen!

Standout track: Night on the Yorktown

3 – 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (Bear McCreary)

You’ve heard Bear McCreary, even if you don’t know his name. Trust me. He scored the excellent Battlestar Galactica remake and it’s his music that forms the memorable title track to The Walking Dead. He’s been much more television based (and continues to be) but in scoring the underrated, Hitchcockian sequel to secret blockbuster Cloverfield, he truly advances to the big leagues with a score one parts mythic, and two parts a gorgeous mesh of dark thriller & Jerry Goldsmith-esque creeping mystique. Even if you don’t love 10 Cloverfield Lane (and you should), it would be a surprise if you don’t end up a little in love with how it sounds by the end.

Standout track: Michelle

2 – THE NEON DEMON (Cliff Martinez)

Following previous partnerships with Nicolas Winding Refn on films such as Drive or Only God Forgives, Cliff Martinez perhaps reaches amongst the peak of his accomplishments with his remarkable and unique work on The Neon Demon. Now, not everyone took to Winding Refn’s garish horror about the fashion industry, but Martinez’s music drips with substance. It often sounds like diamonds falling onto a cold floor, infused with a sense of warped, pulsing disco, underlain with painful violins capturing the tragedy of Elle Fanning’s main character. It’s a stunning piece of work, and remarkable for the fact the standout piece, ‘The Demon Dance’, is a contributing from Julian Winding, the directors brother. If it’s not being played in clubs forevermore, it’ll be a travesty.

Standout track: The Demon Dance

1 – HIGH-RISE (Clint Mansell)

There’s a strong argument that Clint Mansell is the greatest composer on this list discussed today and, after listening to his score for High-Rise, it’s hard to provide a counterpoint. Ben Wheatley’s absurdist, neo-capitalist, period masterpiece and searing critique on Thatcherism may both be the greatest film of 2016 but also have a score to match. Mansell belies his roots as a Midlander growing up in the gaudy, concrete monstrosities of the 60’s & 70’s to deliver an operatic and creeping piece which matches Wheatley’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s commentary. It’s full of brash violins, strong towering themes and an underpinning of controlled mayhem which Mansell explodes outward for effect at just the right moments. Of all these pieces, it’s the score that can be most listened to and enjoyed in isolation. Even in Mansell’s glittering career it’s a standout, possibly career best piece of work.

Standout track: The World Beyond the High Rise

In terms of honourable mentions, a shout out again to Giacchino for Doctor Strange, to Henry Jackman for The Birth of a Nation, the great John Williams for The BFG, Johann Johannson for Arrival, John Ottman for X-Men Apocalypse, Abel Korzeniowski for Nocturnal Animals and John Powell/David Buckley’s collaboration on Jason Bourne. There are more I’ve missed, undoubtedly, from even the honourable mentions, let alone the best of list.

So take a moment to remember than even in a hellish political year, or a largely average one for movies on the screen, the composers behind the music are still delivering work you’ll be listening to for years to come. 2016 does have one saving grace, after all…

Failed Critics Podcast: Suicide Pod

joker suicide squad clay enos warner bros

Wearing skimpy clothes and carrying a baseball bat with a miserable face carved into it with a compass, Steve “Har-leaky Quim” Norman is not about to let your perception of his sexual promiscuity define him as he wanders in to lead this week’s podcast, all about DC’s latest entry to their extended movie universe: it’s David Ayer’s rogues-done-good ensemble actioner, Suicide Squad.

Taking pot-shots at the film with his uber-cool Nerf missile launcher strapped to his bogey-covered sleeve, Andrew “Deadsnot” Brooker lends a slightly-crusty hand on this week’s episode. As does Owen “The Inch-and-less” Hughes, possessed by the spirit of a stroppy old misanthropic witch, but you probably can’t tell that there’s anything different about him compared with any previous podcast appearance in fairness.

Suicide Squad gets a once over from the ragtag bunch of misfits spoiler-free, before a post-credits review that delves more deeply into some of the finer points of the plot, should you wish to listen to us prattle on even longer.

We also preview Hunter Johnson’s upcoming indie-horror 2 Jennifer – the sequel to James Cullen Bressack’s 2013 indie thriller To Jennifer – shot entirely on an iPhone, as well as Steve’s rewatch of iconic American TV series Homeland, plus a first watch of this year’s folk-horror The Witch. The Asylum doesn’t escape criticism on the pod either after releasing yet another entry in the unbelievably popular franchise, Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens.



The Witch


“Trouble us, no more.”

As a life long fan of the horror genre, I’ve become somewhat disillusioned as of late with the films being released with that label. Sure, there are a few gems here and there, last year’s We Are Still Here is a particular favourite of mine; a terrifying nightmare piece that genuinely scared me and had me shifting my arse up the stairs super fast that night in terror. Sadly, most horror films don’t do this to me. Part of it may be that I’ve been soaking myself in horror films for so many years that there isn’t much that makes me jump any more. But I think, more than that, is that the market has been saturated with paint-by-numbers Lionsgate garbage made by accountants and marketers for the biggest gross at the lowest possible cost.

Enter, stage left, Robert Eggers’ The Witch.

Subtitled “A New England Folktale”, Eggers’ debut feature film is set in the early part of the 17th century; a time when religious belief and prayer surpassed logic and common sense and the entire new world led their lives by the teachings of the church. To speak out against those in charge is to be branded a heretic and find yourself banished. That’s exactly what has happened to William – Ralph Ineson, veteran of almost every British TV show you can think of – who has spoken out against his church, and he and his family have been thrown out of their plantation.

Trying to make a life for themselves on the edge of an almost impassable forest, the family – that includes Game of Thrones‘ Kate Dickie and relative unknown Anya Taylor-Joy – struggle from day-to-day with poor crops, no wildlife to hunt and just a general lack of amenities in their secluded little farm. Things start to spiral uncontrollably for the family when their youngest son, Sam, disappears under bizarre circumstances. With no trace of the infant, the family attempts to move on without answers but seem to be constantly stopped in their tracks by the strange goings-on around them and the ever more likely chance of there being a witch living in the woods near where they’ve made their home.

The smart thing about The Witch is how it purposefully avoids all the traits of modern horror. With almost no blood and absolutely nothing in the way of cheap jump scares, Robert Eggers has created a film to satisfy even the most jaded of horror fans. Setting the film in the 1630’s, and using almost all naturally available light for the shoot, the film looks eerily washed out in every frame, upping the creepy factor using nothing but the naturally occurring shadows.

Scarier than anything else, however, is the religious undertone the whole film has. Set some sixty years before the famous Salem Witch Trials, The Witch is a terrifying look at how it’s possible to delude yourself into making things worse with the religion that is the basis of the society you live in – a problem that is still very much there in some parts of the world we live in today, I’m guessing that’s kind of the point of this film – as the family refuse to do the sensible thing and leave the cursed farm and instead choose to live under God’s protection, knowing that he will protect them and keep the evil around them from harming them. And even as the opposite becomes abundantly apparent, the family’s delusion is still stronger than whatever lies in the forest.

As a debut feature, in any genre, The Witch is stunning. Its $3.5 million budget (a little over a third of the bloody awful The Forest‘s purse) spread perfectly in making an outstanding little flick. But as a horror film, it’s an absolute masterclass. With zero jump scares and no blood and gore, the film relies completely on the nail biting atmosphere it creates and the nerve shredding, creeped out feeling it leaves you with long after the final scene has gone dark.

Horror is, for the most part, one of those subjective genres. Some will head to the cinema based on the praise The Witch is getting and decide it’s complete guff because there’s no blood, guts and torture. For those people, fear not, there is a new Saw film in the works. But, if tension and atmosphere are your thing, The Witch will be right up your street.