Don't Breathe

  • 14:02 on 15th Sep 2016
  • By Charlie Brigden


Don’t Breathe opened just a few days ago and is a horror/thriller movie starring Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto and is written and directed by Fede Alvarez. The premise of house invasion by thieves who then get caught by the owner who turns out to be more than they thought seems like a somewhat over-familiar trope in horror genre but this film currently in theaters is garnering very positive reviews as a suspenseful, well-crafted nail biting experience where tight direction, great performances and handling of the premise set it apart from the dime-a-dozen horror productions. Undoubted asset to the movie is Spanish composer Roque Baños’ underscore, which in conjunction with the sound design has garnered praise from the critics. While the composer hasn’t quite struck gold in Hollywood yet, he has been making name for himself in the recent years with the highly effective scores like the brutal, chilling but surprisingly melodic music for the remake of Evil Dead and while Don’t Breathe shares the same genre it is an altogether different beast construction-wise.

Don’t Breathe is most of all a functional score, which might sound like a derogatory term when applied to a film score, akin to calling it wallpaper, but it’s primary function is pure uncomfortable atmosphere and injection of nerve-racking suspense to the film and this is where Baños succeeds exceedingly well. This score oozes haunting atmosphere and foreboding. Melody is scarce,with a few moments of musical respite offered throughout the album that leave only passing impression rather than strong identity of themselves. Undeniably every trick in the book of uneasy and tension filled sound production is used by the composer here, from screeching strings to bowed cymbals to the sustained chillingly droning high and low notes to highly manipulated synthetic sounds that clang and scratch with menace and creepiness.

Nearly everything feels alienating, grating and uncomfortable, disorienting and muddled with few rhythm elements suddenly pushing through the texture to give the score suspense, urgency and danger. These tracks are where the album usually gets most interesting. The tense varied rhythms also form the clearest through line beyond the pure cold atmospheric effects on this album and are first introduced in end half of the disc opening ‘The Abandoned Neighbourhood’. Here the metallic percussion sounds give the music a slightly sinister edge, a promise of things to come. ‘Approaching the House’ contains subtle synths and percussion quietly ratcheting up the tension but perhaps the most interesting employment of these suspense rhythms comes in ‘Indoor Chasing’ which first drones and then pulses away with terrifying efficiency which is nervous and unsettling and ‘Trapped in the Car’ takes the same manipulated clanging, ticking metallic sounds to their frenzied dissonant climax. It is not exactly riveting as a listening experience as these small engaging moments are found in the middle a lot of sound design-like atmospheric writing which wafts in and out without much notice.

The composer injects a bit of occasional emotional warmth and vulnerability to the score but this is mainly down to a few moments of piano chords providing momentary respite from the tension and unease. The lengthy ‘Let’s Do This One’ is the first example of this where lonely rambling piano notes try to form a melody underneath the drone of strings and synths to give the piece a brief air of tragedy although cold tension prevails. ‘Captured’ returns to the slowly paced piano notes, the harmonies a bit more hopeful but they do not offer much impression before steely, cold strings and synth effects take over again. Banõs braves to give the score a bit more emotional denouement with ‘Leaving Town’ where piano and strings are at first in danger of being suddenly drowned by the suspense dissonances before a lovely bittersweet piano melody emerges to close the narrative with pensive melancholy, which has to be the single most lovely moment of this otherwise oppressively dark score. ‘Don’t Breathe End Credits’ rounds out the experience with a combination of the main elements of the score, where classically tinged cascades of piano chords slowly emerge from the threatening synthesized soundscape that exemplified most of this soundtrack ending things on a rather grim note.

Don’t Breathe is definitely not a bad score as such. Baños has clearly put a lot of thought and effort into crafting all the sounds and effects to enhance the overall atmosphere of the film and by all reports it works wonders in the movie but this is one of those scores that does not make for a truly engaging listening experience when separated from the images to which it is tailored for and the overlong album doesn’t really help its case any further. Beyond the basic rhythmic effects and some very fleeting shades of emotion from the piano, there is very little to latch onto here to keep you entertained for an hour. In the end this score unfortunately leaves very little impression on disc which makes it hard to recommend to anyone beyond the most die-hard Roque Baños enthusiasts/completists. – Mikko Ojala




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