Home > Reviews > WHAT LIES BENEATH – Alan Silvestri

WHAT LIES BENEATH – Alan Silvestri

whatliesbeneathOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Despite being best known for the feelgood drama Forrest Gump and the time-travelling adventures Back to the Future, director Robert Zemeckis has always been a fan of classic horror. He served as executive producer for the ghoulishly gruesome TV series Tales from the Crypt and its spin-off movies, as well as making his own mark on the genre directing the amusing but less-than-successful Death Becomes Her. Now, with What Lies Beneath, Zemeckis has dispensed with the laughs and set out to make a good, old fashioned ghost story, with a top-name cast that includes Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer on screen together for the first time as a husband and wife whose idyllic house in the country is terrorized by a mysterious spectre from his past.

As well as being a fan of classic horror movies, it seems that Robert Zemeckis is also a fan of classic horror scores because, in many ways, what he has asked composer Alan Silvestri to do is pay homage to some of the great chiller scores of the past. Unfortunately, although the music certainly fulfills its objectives, and is certainly scary in parts, it never has the true mark of Silvestri stamped on it. In fact, it never really sounds like anybody else, including Silvestri, which is a shame – I for one have always been a fan of the off-kilter percussive elements and long, evil string lines that previously inhabited his work in this genre.

Instead, and for the most part, What Lies Beneath is a one-tone score – and that tone is one of relentless unease. It’s a world away from the lush, buoyant music he wrote for the likes of Stuart Little and The Parent Trap, but effectively highlights Silvestri’s adaptability and versatility in switching genres so effectively. When the music does burst into life, it also contains some of the most surprisingly vicious dissonance the composer has ever written.

Much of the first three tracks are made up of simple, shifting tones – high end violins, low end cellos and basses – playing off each other, bouncing around a recurring four-note motif. The music is quiet, yet eerie and very atmospheric, barely rising above a whisper in parts. The fourth track, ‘You Know’, finally raises the tempo, chilling the air with unearthly groaning brasses, and a whole load of synthesized and acoustic chaos that is occasionally reminiscent of James Horner’s dissonance from Aliens. And that’s when the real fun starts.

‘Forbidden Fruit’ rises to such a mammoth crescendo and contains a sequence of such chilling discord that, compared to the relative silence of the rest of the score, it comes across as being positively earth-shattering, while ‘The Getaway’ and the opening moments of the ‘End Credits’ are obvious, effective and unexpectedly loud pastiches of Bernard Herrmann’s legendary Psycho music, albeit with more rounded orchestrations. At completely the other end of the scale, ‘I Opened The Door’ features a coldly attractive, music-box piano solo underpinning more oscillating string tones.

Admittedly, aficionados of the horror genre will find very little true innovation in the score for What Lies Beneath. Silvestri treads a well worn path with his music, never really defying convention, but bringing his not inconsiderable talent to bear on a score which is enjoyable enough, but never really challenging. It’s also short – the first Varèse release for a while to run under 30 minutes – but, in retrospect, it is also probably long enough. Despite its lack of a true individual personality, there are still several moments to savor, and it never outstays its welcome.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (1:12)
  • Panic Attack (2:58)
  • Ouija Board (1:14)
  • You Know (2:40)
  • Forbidden Fruit (5:31)
  • I Opened The Door (2:47)
  • The Getaway (2:44)
  • Reunited (3:53)
  • End Credits (6:33)

Running Time: 29 minutes 58 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6172 (2000)

Music composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri. Orchestrations by Alan Silvestri. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Edited by Ken Karman. Album produced by Alan Silvestri and David Bifano.

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