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HALF LIGHT – Brett Rosenberg

January 13, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the absolute best things in being a film music fan is when a score for a film which no-one has heard of, written by a composer no-one knows, appears out of nowhere and reaffirms your faith that somewhere, out there, great film music is still being written. This is what happened to me with Half Light, an Australian-British co-production starring Demi Moore and directed by Craig Rosenberg, with music by the director’s brother, composer Brett Rosenberg. I first discovered Half Light back in March 2006, when I rented the DVD from Blockbuster purely on the strength of its interesting cover art. The film is a supernatural thriller-cum-romantic drama, which sees Demi Moore playing novelist Rachel Carlson, whose idyllic London life with her family is shattered when her young son Thomas (Beans El-Balawi) drowns in a freak accident. With her already rocky marriage on increasingly unstable ground, and seeking solace to recover from the tragedy, Rachel retreats to an isolated village in a remote part of northern Scotland, where she also plans to finish her latest book. At first everything goes well: the locals, despite being a little unusual, are generally friendly, and she even embarks on a hesitant, illicit romance with local lighthouse-keeper Angus McCulloch (Hans Matheson). However, before long, things start happening which cause Rachel to begin to examine her sanity – not least the fact that she seems to be receiving frightening visits from her son’s ghost…

To be perfectly frank, Half Light is not a great movie. Visually, it’s gorgeous, with director Craig Rosenberg and his DP Ashley Rowe making superb use of sweeping cinematography work, many clever camera angles and effects, and emphasising the ruggedly beautiful landscape of the Welsh island of Anglesey, where the film was shot. Demi Moore is decent enough in her first leading role for quite a while, but the screenplay is rather predictable, and the thriller elements are less convincing when compared to the generally well-established supernatural twists. The score, however, is absolutely stunning. Brett Rosenberg is not yet a well-known composer; born in Australia, he studied with his piano-playing father and under fellow Antipodean composer Brian May prior to completing film scoring classes at UCLA in the early 1990s. His most famous work to date is probably the 1996 comedy-drama Hotel De Love, also directed by his brother Craig, but if Half Light is as received as well as many – including me – hope it is, then I’m certain we will be hearing much more from him in years to come.

Written for a full orchestra, with Nicholas Dodd conducting and orchestrating, and featuring instrumental solos by Dermot Crehan (of LOTR fame) and Simon Chamberlain (George Fenton’s regular pianist), Half Light is probably best described as a cross between Christopher Young’s most lush and sweeping string writing, combined with touches of Danny Elfman’s emotional Irish-tinged work and parts of Bernard Herrmann’s angry thriller scores. This is not to say that the score is in any way derivative, because it’s not: rather, Rosenberg has managed channel the best elements of all these composer’s stylistics and use them in a way which reflects both his own talent, and their musical stamps on the genre.

The main theme, heard first in the “Main Title”, is a lyrical, rhapsodic affair that swells and eddys through the performances of the full string section and Chamberlain’s sympathetic piano. Its performance at the beginning of “The Drowning”, on sonorous oboes, speaks of familial harmony and contentment: when the gently cooing choir gives way to a shattering cacophony of frantic, rushing, angry string writing, as Rachel discovers her dead son’s body in the river behind their home, you know things in her perfect life have changed forever. Rosenberg’s father Ron plays the solo piano performance of the theme in “The Cottage”.

The secondary theme for Rachel and her remote hideaway has that ‘vaguely Celtic’ sound which often accompanies films set in this part of the world: it’s not geographically specific to Scotland, or Ireland, or Wales, but has that instantly-recognisable stylistic, anchored by Dermot Crehan’s superb fiddle performances, and the lilting orchestral accompaniment. It is further developed in later cues such as “The Island” (which features a gorgeous statement of the theme on solo viola), and combines nicely with the truly beautiful love theme for Rachel and Angus, which receives a delightful featured performance in the appropriately-titled “Love Theme”. Their tender lovemaking scene is underscored by the orgasmic-sounding (but unfortunately-named) duo “Get It On” and “Got It On”, the former of which is reminiscent of both Wojciech Kilar’s The Portrait of Lady and Debbie Wiseman’s Wilde, especially the sumptuous oboe melody. The dark, velvety passacaglia in “Mr. Angus Regrets”, which also recalls Kilar, is equally wonderful.

The supernatural element of the story, which revolves around the ghost of Rachel’s son Thomas, builds in leitmotivic fashion out of the eerie vocal cooing first heard in “The Drowning” and adds an icy chill to “Thomas Appears”, “Dreams and Drownings”, “Morag’s Vision” and others. The equally numinous “Haunted” features an intriguing echoing woodwind effect to add to the sense of unease and mystery. However, all is not innocence and beauty, and while the romantic and supernatural elements of the story are scored with lyricism and grace, the thriller and out-and-out horror moments allow Rosenberg to let his orchestra rip, with a number of creative dissonances and action sequences, notably during the latter half of “Dreams and Drownings”, “He’s Dead”, the furious “Now You See Him” and the more action-packed “The Houdini”.

I really cannot recommend Half Light highly enough. Not only does it have a multitude of beautiful themes, each performed superbly, and some shockingly violent dissonance, its importance within the film itself is immeasurable. There were moments watching the film when the music made it seem a far better movie than it actually is – more romantic, more tender, more expansive, scarier, and more unnerving. To have a film score which works magnificently in the context of the film is what every film composer strives for, but to have it work as standalone album as well is simply icing on the cake. I have a strong feeling that both Half Light and Brett Rosenberg will feature highly in my personal best-of-2006 lists at the end of the year.

Rating: ****½

Half Light is available exclusively as a digital download from the MovieScore Media website, and can be purchased here.

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (2:41)
  • The Drowning (5:32)
  • Dark Drive (1:09)
  • The Cottage (0:51)
  • Rachel’s Theme (1:00)
  • Thomas Appears/The Island (2:14)
  • Dreams and Drownings (3:18)
  • Lighthouse Vista (0:54)
  • Love Theme (1:36)
  • Camera Flashback (0:35)
  • Boat Journey (0:35)
  • Morag’s Vision (1:02)
  • Thomas Was Here (0:33)
  • Boat Journey (Alternative Version) (0:39)
  • Get It On (1:13)
  • Got It On (0:47)
  • Rachel’s Healing (1:09)
  • He’s Dead (1:38)
  • Haunted (2:51)
  • Broken Cross (1:10)
  • The Reflection (1:15)
  • Now You See Him… (3:16)
  • Losing It (0:51)
  • Who’s There? (0:47)
  • Mr. Angus Regrets (1:42)
  • The Houdini (4:49)
  • Farewell (0:58)
  • Alone (1:27)
  • Girl in the Storm (1:45)

Running Time: 48 minutes 34 seconds

MovieScore Media MMS-06009 (2006)

Music composed Brett Rosenberg. Conducted and orchestrated by Nicholas Dodd. Featured musical soloists Dermot Crehan, John Bradbury, Simon Chamberlain and Ron Rosenberg. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster. Edited by Kirsty Whalley. Album produced by Brett Rosenberg and Mikael Carlsson.

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