• Ben Erickson


Based on the supernatural horror novel by Stephen King, the first film adaptation of It showcases the expert musical talents of Benjamin Wallfisch. The composer's expedition of horror films this past year, namely Gore Verbinski's A Cure for Wellness and David Sandberg's Annabelle: Creation, has quickly cemented his place in the genre, and his proficiency with the conventions of horror music is most convincingly demonstrated in his score for It. This score in particular succeeds in escaping the norm and creating new musical ingredients for horror that are more self-aware. Wallfisch's work on Annabelle: Creation, like most horror film music, was a deliberate attempt to make the listener uncomfortable, employing avant-garde musical techniques to create a tense, eerie, and suspenseful score. To say he had no choice in the matter of how the film was to be scored would be correct in that the limitations of a film of that genre give him no choice. It breaks away from the horror convention by transcending genres, exploring themes of survival and solidarity just as crucial to the story as horror. Most of the conventions typical of horror film music were still used by Wallfisch; sound design for added effects that take account of the film's environment such as static bursts with the appearance of Pennywise; exotic, fringe, or out-of-tune instruments, in this case a piano; instruments that are seemingly innocent such as the musical box used late in the film; melodic and harmonic dissonance (clashing semitones, tritones, flat-ninths, major-minor seventh chords, major or minor triads with a sharp-fourth and a perfect fifth, diminished chords, chord clusters, unresolved phrases, etc.), modal writing, atonal music, aleatoric music (ie. screeching strings or extended techniques), extreme registers, and poly-meter, with rhythms that pull the listener out of sync so as to shock them with sudden concentrated eruptions of music. Another practice becoming more common to horror film music is to take a beloved children's song and give it an eerie, ethereal quality by reducing the tempo, changing the harmonies, and performing it with breathy vocals, aptly done with "You Are My Sunshine" in Annabelle: Creation. The film opens with the voice of a young girl as she sings the English nursery rhyme 'Oranges and Lemons', giving us a taste of discomfort as we travel through the opening logos. The rhyme itself (see below) is a conversation between several 18th century churches in London regarding the fate of a child who steals produce, meant as a warning for children against theft by way of severe punishment. The nursery rhyme rings true to the implied loss of innocence experienced by the children throughout the film, performed by a children's chorus in several scenes. The use of a children's chorus is one of the more extraordinary things about this score as it creates a liminal element between the music and the film diegesis. The chorus most often appears alongside the many apparitions and forms conceived by Pennywise, drawing a deeper connection between him and his assumed victims as their souls seemingly linger in his presence. This is first experienced when Georgie is taken by Pennywise, a shocking manipulation of sound that no dam could hold.

"Oranges and lemons, Say the bells of St. Clement's. You owe me five farthings, Say the bells of St. Martin's. When will you pay me? Say the bells of Old Bailey. When I grow rich, Say the bells of Shoreditch. When will that be? Say the bells of Stepney. I do not know, Says the great bell of Bow. Here comes a candle to light you to bed, And here comes a chopper to chop off your head! Chip chop chip chop the last man is dead."

Following the opening logos we arrive to a drenched day in the little town of Derry, Maine ("Every 27 Years"). The theme for Derry greets us, opening with a strong phrase in G Major, but almost immediately taking a chromatic turn and revealing a sinister presence. The malevolent undertones never fully disappear as the melody continues, nor is G Major ever clearly restored. Like the town itself, the music conceals the evil hidden therein, continuing as though nothing is out of place in its queer progress. Wide shots of Derry and its theme interspersed within the film remind us of this silent arrangement between Pennywise and the town all too well. Upon meeting Bill and his little brother Georgie we encounter Georgie's theme ("Paper Boat" and "Georgie's Theme"), an inviting, playful, seven-note passage redolent of warmth and life. After Pennywise claims Georgie as his first victim the theme is used to perverse effect alongside illusions of the dead boy to draw his brother Bill to Pennywise ("You'll Float Too"). The third and final soothing melody belongs to "Beverly". The gentle cascading ripple of notes aligns with her gentle demeanor, with sustained strings spanning across its scope as it emerges to unify the group. "Shape Shifter" is another wonderful example of a liminal element within the score, inserting a flute with excessive extemporaneous leaps in a very high register to elevate the realism of Pennywise's apparition, this time taking the form of a frightening figure with flute in hand. Much later in the film, when Beverly awakens to find herself within Pennywise's lair, a brief, low drone is given by a men's chorus, signifying the viewer's metaphorical descent into hell following their physical descent into the sewers ("Pennywise's Tower"). Unexpected warmth and colour return to the music during the climax of the film and on to the end, providing levity from our distress and comfort in a preserved peace and strong friendships. The flute makes a reappearance here ("Blood Oath"), mimicking the same tone as before only no longer used as a tool of fear, remaining within the key instead. As a whole, the score does all that is expected of it and more. Most horror film scores are predictable and boring, but It breaks convention with musical ingenuity to create a self-conscious experience for the viewer. Wallfisch has made a real turn of the genre simply through a desire to serve the story. Considering his impressive delivery with film scores this past year alone I look forward to the composer's continued success. It is reassuring to hear that he has been hired as composer for Blade Runner 2049, not only because the original Blade Runner maintains a strong legacy in the history of film scores, but also because the thought of such a talented composer becoming type-cast to write music for a single genre is trying on the nerves.