Score Composition for Dark and Eerie Sequences

Tonight, I’m interviewing Aris Lanaridis. Aris is a film & media composer, sound designer and music producer. Tonight, he is talking about how music affects and enhances the suspense in horror films and what principles dictate how and what kind of music is used.

About Aris

https://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/staff/aris-lanaridis

https://tagg.org/teaching/mmi/filmfunx.html

https://www.linkedin.com/in/arislanarides/

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zofia_Lissa

Pulse (2006): Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller

Mysterious entities, start taking over a group of friends through an obscure wireless signal that starts spreading rapidly all over the city.

I’ll be quick… Dark and promising opening sequence that once it gets you hooked it unhooks you with its formulaic narrative. The audience it addresses becomes clear straight away and is none other than… American pre-millennials. Just before the social media, androids and iPhones become our lives, this the generation that started carrying everywhere their cell phones with the ostentatious design.

In case you are wondering why I am doing a review now, it is because I’ve had that DVD on my shelf for the last 15 years and I never got to watch it. Now, I know why. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s original script and Wes Craven’s adaptation were, allegedly, significantly altered by Ray Wright, something that made Craven walk out before production even started and renounced the film. Besides Wright, director Jim Sonzero did not do a good job either. Unfortunately, he treated his audience like they were mentally incapacitated and that alone is a reason to look down on the film. I’ll give you one example to get an idea. Kristen Bell is wearing make-up from beginning till end. No matter what happens, the make-up is intact. Shocking that there were two more (horrendous) instalments after that.

I’m not going to waste your time. To sum it up, the story could have been promising, the script is dull, the filmmaking techniques were outdated way before the film was made, and it is not Kristen Bell’s and Ian Somerhalder’s fault for being in it. They are really good actors. Watch it at your own risk.

Stay safe!

Red Dot (2021): Drama / Horror/ Thriller

In an attempt to heat up their relationship, a couple travels to the north of Sweden only to become a target and fight for their survival.

I have to thank my good friend Shiying for suggesting this one to me, and I’m so glad she did. The film’s strong suit is hands down, the narrative. The script is solid and its two protagonists, Nadja and David totally relatable. Its horror works in two levels: survival against the forces of nature and survival against the forces of unnatural (?) human evil. As the story unfolds, the difference, not that is really needed, is broken down for you so you can reconstruct it yourselves in the end. But, please, let me for argument’s sake humour you. When we distant ourselves from nature, it is not nature to blame if it does what it has been doing way before we stepped foot on this planet that we ended up looking down on as if we owned it. Then, there is the other threat; us. The detached from nature beings who developed, amongst other things, ideology, philosophy, and politics and used them against one another, as well as… nature.

Leaving my ecological concerns out of the equation, Red Dot steps on these characteristics of ours and very manipulatively deceives you. The twist is well designed and the editing, of course, selectively discloses what it requires for you to fall into the trap. The second part of the second act could be easily analysed in terms of how the restricted narrative led to the moment of truth, but that would ruin it for you so I’m not gonna do it. Watch it and decide for yourselves whether you saw it coming and how ‘smart’ or not you thought it was. My major objection, and that’s the only thing I’ll tell you, is that the third act’s harshness would be far more breathtaking if the verbosity levels were dropped, even to zero. But that’s just me.

Have a go at it! It’s well worth it. From beginning to end, Nanna Blondell and Anastasios Soulis lead the way with their incredible performances. What also stands out is Oscar-worthy cinematography. Before everything goes tits up, see how it starts at the petrol station. My initial thought was: ‘As if they don’t have enough on their plate, them two… it’s just what they needed’. And that’s what makes Nadja and David totally relatable, as I said in the beginning. You are going somewhere with your boyfriend/girlfriend and they show up. How would you react? What would you have done differently? How would you cope with the consequences? It is how every good thriller/horror starts…

Stay safe!

P.S. Shiying, that’s for you! Thank you, luv!

The House That Jack Built (2018): Crime / Drama / Horror

The life of a serial killer through the major incidents that made him and the examination of his psychosynthesis.

Welcome to the world of a psychopathic murderer! Look at it through his eyes. See how it makes sense to him. Feel how he perceives it, in the scariest possible way, as you and I do. Welcome to the world that Lars von Trier and Matt Dillon built!

Watch back to back Trier’s The House That Jack Built and David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007). The former views the world through the nihilistic eyes of a killer who tries to make sense of our world’s identity, and the latter views it through our ‘existential’ eyes, which try to make sense of the killer’s identity. Regardless of the antithetical points of view and budget, both films’ theme is regarding a serial killer yet, they share no similarities. Not really, anyway. The striking differences in writing, acting, editing, and cinematography – all overseen by the director – are held responsible for creating films worlds apart and confuse film theorists (even more) in regard to ‘What is Cinema?’. Fincher’s meticulous mise-en-scène and precise cuts become an example to avoid for Trier who, in a mockumentary-style of filmmaking shakes his camera as much as he possibly can and cuts wherever it seems not right, ignoring continuity and paying tribute to Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960). Is there ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? No, there is not! The narrative always dictates how the story will unfold and in which way. And Trier’s filmmaking choices of saying the story the way he wants to create one of the most realistic serial killer films you have ever watched. Pay extra attention to the humorous side of the murders. Yes, there is a humorous side to it. Don’t judge it though, remember whose point of view this film is from. Even I smiled at Dillon’s reaction to the body’s melted face that had been dragged on the streets for miles. The film’s scariest parts though are not the murders themselves, but the justification of Jack’s actions and the sick and perverted way they somehow make sense.

My issue is not with the way the story unfolds, but with where it is heading. After an hour and a half of balanced nihilistic philosophy, deranged psychology, and monstrosities, Trier turns the film into a pseudo-sophisticated paradigm that, in my humble opinion, does not any more explain Jack’s actions, takes over the narrative, and expresses how Trier views art, politics, history, war, and anything that comes into his mind. Why do I think of that? Because I’m sure that Jack didn’t commit these murders creating a montage of Trier’s previous films in his head. I know he made a statement about, potentially, not directing another feature, but, in the name of art, he managed to lose the narrative’s focus and turned it into a confusing mess.

In Cannes, some people left the theatre and others gave it a six-minute standing ovation. Some condemned it on social media for its violence and point of view, and others praised it. See for yourselves how parts of ‘The Divine Comedy’ and ‘Faust’ work within the narrative and how the allegories and the history lessons work for you. Love it or loathe it, be it Trier’s last film or not, The House That Jack Built is a must-watch, and whatever I say, nothing will give justice to Matt Dillon’s remarkable performance. If none of the aforementioned sounds appealing or appalling enough, watch it just for Dillon!

Stay safe!

Synchronic (2019): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

A new drug on the streets, causing obscure and mystical effects, will make two paramedics from New Orleans reevaluate life.

The trippy, otherworldly, and oneiric opening sequence pins you down and gets your undivided attention. Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) become immediately relatable from the get-go while you are trying to establish how is everything connected. As the incidents increase, the plot’s mystery and intricacy are accompanied by an equally dramatic subplot and both of them unfold together on Jimmy LaValle’s amazing soundtrack that expresses the characters’ psychosynthesis.

In my humble opinion though the film reaches its peak with the heartbreaking sequence of Steve’s dog, Hawking – honestly, I couldn’t breathe properly. Steve realises how the drug works and, from then on, it becomes too explanatory too fast for my taste, disillusioning too early an experience that stops raising questions anymore. Having said that, please, don’t let it discourage you. Watch it as it is a great low budget, indie sci-fi, and both Mackie and Dornan do a great job in front of the camera.

Behind the camera, writers/directors/producers/cinematographers/editors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead prove once more their unquestionable talent. From Resolution (2012) to Spring (2014), to The Endless (2017), to Synchronic, they constantly prove that filmmakers don’t need millions of dollars to bring to life something innovative; something that follows certain rules, breaks others, and, ultimately, still manages to be groundbreaking, didactic, and entertaining. Twenty years ago, Christopher Nolan started on small budgets and then the world became his oyster. As Steven Spielberg did thirty years before him. It seems that the filmmaking partners Benson and Moorhead, gradually, are given more and more funding. If they stick to their unique point of view – and don’t get sucked by Hollywood – they will keep performing cinematic miracles.

Stay safe!

Possessor (2020): Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller

A secret agent, who works for a shadowy organisation that has the technology to control people, is sent on a mission to assassinate a high-profile target, but with unexpected consequences.

As a huge fan of the Canadian film school, I will tell you that Possessor does not disappoint. Films like that need to be highly praised, if anything, for their boldness. Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg is not to be compared with his father (David) as he has his his own distinct voice to narrate a story worth telling. The influences from eXistenZ (1999) and Videodrome (1983) might be visible but even these works are not parthenogeneric, and every generation “steals” from the generation before it, anyway. This has always been the case in art and science and that is the root of evolution (maybe of devolution too). My only “like his father” reference is the theme of “sex”. Brandon has taken over the torch of sexual exploration and mental darkness as projected through the lens, and I believe in future films of his we’ll see a lot more. The hallucination scenes are only the beginning…

Possessor‘s practical visual effects most definitely stand out, giving meaning to to the original purpose of visual effects before they became the means to overshadow a mediocre or bad narrative. Cronenberg’s high-concept, hi-tech, cinematic schizophrenia dictates what effects are needed and to what end, allegorically cautions the audience of the brain’s unknown vastness, and offers the thrill of its exploration by presenting the shock of the characters’ experiences through their own decisions.

Andrea Riseborough has proved time and time again that there is nothing she can’t do in front of the lens and mesmerises with her performance. Christopher Abbott, is a rising star and he’s terrific in everything he’s been in. Watch Sweet Virginia (2017), The Sinner (2017), and It Comes at Night (2017), if you don’t want to take my word for it – and that’s just within a year. As for Jennifer Jason Leigh, no introductions are needed as she’s been constantly offering her versatility to the cinema for over forty years now.

To conclude, Possessor is a must-watch that adds value to the Canadian film school and excites with its uniqueness and unpredictability. Regardless of the film schools though, it distinguishes itself from the traditional Hollywood narrative and blends the horror/sci-fi/thriller genres in a way you have not seen before. Pay attention to the opening sequence’s details. Gabrielle Graham, as a theatrical thespian, captivates with her performance and Cronenberg guides her character, Holly, to commit the poetic crime in a way that only Shakespeare would describe. From then on, it’s all uncharted territory.

Stay safe!

Ghosts of War (2020): Horror / Thriller / War

During WWII, five American soldiers are sent to a French Chateau to make a stand, not expecting to encounter a sinister supernatural force.

The “thriller” and “war” genres are indicative from the get-go. Even though it gets quite brutal but also comedic straight after, their arrival at the French mansion brings a certain mystery with it. Admittedly, the introduction of the interior of the mansion is quite spooky and entertaining, decently maintaining the balance between “horror” and “comedy” and, consequently, the audience’s attention. The “Nazi shootout” sequence becomes the film’s climax with all of us deeply enjoying their vicious deaths. The “facing the ghosts” sequence is also enjoyable and should have given the film the ending it deserved. That could be a happy ending, depressing ending, jaw-dropping-twist ending… An ending nonetheless. But the filmmakers thought otherwise! Before I move to the ending, I’d like to say that the acting is brilliant and all actors deserve to be praised. Excellent job!

Writer/director Eric Bress comes back as a director for his second film after The Butterfly Effect (2004) and, up to the point that I mentioned, does a very decent job. His directing still remains intact after that but his writing, eventually, damages the rest of the film. I cannot tell you why without spoiling it for you so, should you decide to watch it, stop here and see for yourselves. You are more than welcome to come back to my review after you have watched it.

Stay safe!

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Spoilers Alert!

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The ending is nonsensical because it tried to copy two films with similar, but successful for their narrative ending: The Thirteenth Floor (1999) and Dark City (1998). These fall under the jaw-dropping twists I mentioned earlier and, back then, gave the films the endings that everyone was talking about after watching them. In Ghosts of War this is most definitely not the case. It’s like Agent Smith (the ghosts) infiltrated the matrix and now Neo (Chris) would collaborate with the machines (the scientists) to restore the balance. It could not make less sense.

Other than nonsensical though, the ending is dangerous. What the filmmakers did here is dangerous. They associated the Nazis with ISIS. They “juxtaposed” their crimes as if that makes them the same. The Nazis and ISIS are not the same. I’m not going to give you a history lesson, but when the era is different, the culture is different, the history behind them is different, the motives are different, and then when one atrocity is related to war and the other (mostly) to terrorism… the comparison is not even wrong, it doesn’t exist. There is nothing to compare.

Filmmakers and studios need to be careful, nowadays. They hold responsibility for what they release and careers can be ruined in a blink of an eye.

Edgar Allan Poe: The Man, The Myth, His Legacy

Tonight, I’m interviewing Pantelis Tsibiskakis. Pantelis was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. He studied languages and art both in the UK and the US. Tonight, he is talking about one of his favourite poets, and admittedly mine too, Edgar Allan Poe, his writings, the adaptations, his personal tribulations, but also his legacy.

I’ve used three of Pantelis’ poems in my short story The Last Route (2020): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/11/04/the-last-route-2020-horror-thriller-drama/

You can find more about him, but also all of his work at the link below: https://ziti.gr/syggrafeas/tsimpiskakis-pantelis/

My Friend Dahmer (2017): Biography / Drama / Horror

A high school student finds it really difficult to blend in, isolating himself from friends and family, while doing things that no one should be.

My Friend Dahmer invests in Jeff Dahmer’s character development while stealthily exposing the American society. School and home, the two environments that play a catalytic role in a kid’s physical and emotional growth become a case study for writer/director Marc Meyers who adapts John Backderf’s homonymous book. Shot in the same town where Dahmer was raised, the film leaves its mark for the spine-chilling realism it offers, covering  the raw brutality of loneliness, the harshness of bullying, the fear of coming out – even to one self – and, ultimately, society’s success in… creating monsters.

Furthermore, Jamie Kirkpatrick’s editing patiently builds up the suspenseful narrative and Daniel Katz’s photography very accurately captures the 70s. As for the cast, Ross Lynch gets into character and nails his performance, as does the rest of the cast that very successfully supports his effort. I’d like to seize this opportunity and state something that should have been obvious but, unfortunately, it isn’t. Anne Heche is a wonderful and dynamic actress. Not only that, but she’s also a real-life heroine. I hope we get the chance to see her in more amazing roles like this one, as she still has so much more to offer to both the small and the silver screen.

Every joke made me sadder. Every prank made my heart skip a beat. Every time the parents didn’t care about Jeff’s isolation from everyone, but also himself, I felt like giving up. In the end though, you step back and everything becomes clear. What you have in front of you is all the ingredients you need to… “make a murderer”. I have not read the book, but I’d love to know what the author’s self-criticism would be. How does he describe himself looking back?

Share your feelings. Respect one another. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.

Stay safe!

P.S. In a way, it reminded me Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997/2007). Nothing to do with the content, but in regard to the absence of on-screen violence. I think it’s amazing.