Home > Reviews > BLESS THE CHILD – Christopher Young

BLESS THE CHILD – Christopher Young

blessthechildOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Having passed the turn of the millennium without so much as a hint of Armageddon, it may seem a little odd for a film dealing with the end of the world on 31 December 1999 to make an appearance now – but Bless the Child has suffered such a turbulent post-production, with re-shoots, re-editing and re-writing galore, that this troubled supernatural thriller is only just now beginning to visit cinema screens across the world. Directed by Chuck (“The Mask”) Russell and starring Kim Basinger, Jimmy Smits, Rufus Sewell, Ian Holm and Christina Ricci, Bless the Child tells the story of Maggie O’Connor (Basinger), a comparatively normal working woman whose world is turned upside down when her six year old niece Cody is kidnapped. As Maggie frantically searches for Cody, she slowly learns that the young girl is not all she seemed: apparently, Cody has special psychic powers which, when applied in a certain manner, can open a gateway between Earth and the Netherworld, where legions of evil demons are waiting to invade. Turning to a paranormal investigator (Smits) as a last, vain hope, Maggie tracks Cody down to the lair of a group of devil worshippers (led by Sewell) and engages in a battle for the soul of the child.

Unfortunately, the execution of Bless the Child does not live up to the quality description, with the adverse effects of the recent problems obviously affecting the narrative and visual structure. Matters are not helped by the fact that the plot bears close resemblance to that of End of Days, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s apocalyptic thriller which opened in the UK in December 1999 – in many ways, Bless the Child is a film trying to catch a cinematic boat which has already set sail. However, for composer Christopher Young, this is a return to the territory that has served him so well over the years: big, Gothic, bellicose orchestral carnage which enchants, disturbs and overpowers the listener in glorious equal measure. Stylistically, Bless the Child is a combination of three scores, mixing the massive dissonance and impressive choral work of Hellraiser with the heartbreaking, lavish string themes of Murder in the First and uneasily attractive pianos of Copycat.

As ever, Young manages to do some extremely clever things with his orchestration. He combines vocal styles to great effect, mixing and matching throaty male chanting (hoooo-hah!), bass-heavy Latin incantations, softly breathing women and eerily beautiful boy soprano solos great effect. Young also creates a series of fascinating instrumental solos and effects, notably the raspy, vaguely Asian woodwinds half way through ‘Introitus’ and at the end of ‘Agnus Dei’. The massed ranks of the strings occasionally have an almost hypnotic effect on the listener, especially during the opening moments of ‘Kyrie Eleison’ where each instrument’s part overlaps the other, resulting in a mesmerizing wash of violins, cellos and basses punctuated by moaning, thrusting tubas and horns. These moments represent some of Young’s most intelligent dissonant writing for years, having been stuck in the “string theme” and “Hammond organ jazz” rut for a little too long of late. The ingeniously creepy woodwind flutters nine minutes into ‘Kyrie Eleison’ and at the beginning of ‘Dies Irae’, are also worth noting in this regard, as is the strangely soothing pipe organ that opens ‘Agnus Dei’.

Two of the most beautiful passages occur during ‘Kyrie Eleison’ – five minutes into which the orchestra swells to perform a sweeping, if a little ominous theme ushered by cymbal rings, while just before the 10-minute mark of the same cue, the choir and orchestra rise as one to embark upon one of the score’s few moments of hopeful, almost heavenly rapture. Bless the Child’s action music is superficially reminiscent of that in Urban Legend, notably through its use of rampant percussion, and the way in which each section of the orchestra is effectively doing its own thing the whole time, with little regard for anyone else. ‘Dies Irae’ is the most notable example of this, a powerful, turbulent cue which continually keeps the listener off-guard by punctuating the incredible discord with moments of near-silence, before concluding with a “glorious” choral embellishment.

The final cue, ‘Lux Aeterna’, is arguably the best, underscoring the climactic showdown between good and evil. Beginning with a gentle boy soprano solo, the cue gradually picks up a marvelous passacaglia effect and the majority of the rest of the choir, singing in Latin as before, before swelling into a thoroughly rapturous, full-orchestral celebration of good’s eventual triumph at just after the five and a half minute mark.

One of the most interesting things about Bless the Child as an album is its structure: rather than presenting individual cues, Young and fellow producer Flavio Motalla have chosen to edit several together to form five distinct suites with ecclesiastical Latin names which typify their musical character. ‘Day of Wrath’, as one might imagine, is by far the most bruising cue on the album, and ‘Lamb of God’ is the quietest and most introspective, while the conclusive ‘Eternal Light’ is exactly as it sounds: almost spiritual in nature, and with an infinitely more hopeful outlook than its predecessors. One other important point to raise are the lengths of the cues. To my knowledge, Young has never issued a thirteen minute cue before – but there are two on Bless the Child.

Even though Bless the Child does bear many hallmarks of Young’s previous scores, it is nevertheless one of the best horror scores to emerge during this year, and can easily sit alongside his other classic genre efforts as a highlight in his filmography. As tends to happen with Chris, though, the music seems doomed to be remembered as nothing more than accompaniment for an awful movie, and as a result will not receive the exposure and plaudits it deserves from the public at large.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Introitus (Entrance) (8:07)
  • Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy Upon Us) (11:47)
  • Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) (13:05)
  • Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) (13:06)
  • Lux Aeterna (Eternal Light) (6:45)

Running Time: 53 minutes 14 seconds

GNP Crescendo GNPD-8066 (2000)

Music composed by Christopher Young. Conducted by Allan Wilson. Orchestrations by Pete Anthony, Jon Kull, Bruce Babcock, Frank Bennett, John Bell and Christopher Young. Choirs conducted by Guy Protheroe and Charles Thompson. Featured musical soloists Jonathan Rees and Caroline Dale. Special vocal performances by Anthony Scales, Dominic Brown and Oliver Paton. Recorded and mixed by Dick Lewzey and Robert Fernandez. Edited by Tanya Noel Hill. Album produced by Christopher Young and Flavio Motalla.

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