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THE REAPING – John Frizzell

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Those biblical plagues certainly were a bitch. Boils, locusts, frogs, rivers of blood, death, disease, and pestilence. One thing you can certainly say about Moses and the Old Testament is that they didn’t go for the soft option when dishing out the wrath of God upon their enemies. These biblical plagues feature heavily in the new horror movie The Reaping, starting Hilary Swank and directed by Stephen Hopkins. Swank plays Katherine Winter, a former Christian missionary who specializes in debunking religious phenomena. When her investigations lead her to a small town in Louisiana, she makes a startling discovery: the town seems to be suffering from a new manifestation of the biblical plagues. Worse still is her discovery of the apparent source of the plagues: a ten year old girl named Lauren McConnell (Anna Sophia Robb). The film, which also stars David Morrissey, Stephen Rea and Idris Elba, appropriately opened during the Passover period, but to lukewarm reviews, which derided the film as clichéd and predictable.

Similar criticisms could be made against John Frizzell’s original score, which adheres to every genre stereotype imaginable, and offers very little in the way of original thinking, but in actual fact remains wholly enjoyable for the entire duration of its running time, mainly thanks to Frizzell’s boundless enthusiasm for the project. Brought in as a last minute replacement for Philip Glass, whose score was thrown out during post-production, Frizzell clearly had little time to work out anything innovative for his score, but nevertheless has produced a work which is engaging and entertaining, with moments of ethereal beauty and savage horror.

The score opens promisingly, with a gentle acoustic guitar solo over an undulating orchestra and cooing choir in “The Incident in Chile”, before descending into the first of many moments of skittery dissonance during the second half of the cue. The first of many smooth piano lines to feature prominently in the score appears in “The Call from Costigan”, and reappears later accompanied by reflective violin chords in the introspective “Katherine’s Story”, with the choir cleverly mirroring the theme in the ominous “Livestock”, and with a unbalancing sense of calm in “The Sacrifice Room”.

At the other end of the scale, Frizzell creates some moments of effective horror in several cues, successfully raising the hackles on the back of the listener’s neck. Pulsating bass lines underpin the ominous opening moments of “Trip to Haven” before the piano motif re-appears to create a false sense of musical security. The choir raises its voice in the awe-struck “River of Blood”, before becoming angry and dissonant in “Katherine Encounters Lauren” and the thunderous “Plague of Flies”. Little Lauren has her own frantic string and brass motif, which bubbles and churns in a pseudo-Elliot Goldenthal manner, juxtaposing the image of the sweet-looking blonde-haired young girl with a musical depiction of her horrific powers – the Goldenthal connection perhaps coming via the presence of Robert Elhai in the team of orchestrators. The orchestral carnage reaches its zenith in “Locusts”, “The Darkness” and “The Boy”, a trio of rampaging orchestral action cues which stand as three of the best cues on the entire album.

Things really come to a head during the build up to the apocalyptic finale, when Frizzell brings out the full force of the Page L.A. Studio Chorus choir. “Katherine Reaches For Lauren”, and the aforementioned “Costigan Burns”, and “Locusts” all feature impressive-sounding vocal elements, both sung and chanted, while “God Intervenes” is as magisterial as it sounds, the combination of the orchestra and chorus bringing out the none-too-subtle religious overtones to the film’s climactic sequences. At times, the finale of The Reaping reminded me of the finale from John Debney’s superb 2002 score Dragonfly, albeit without the overwhelmingly emotional thematic content, while elsewhere there were obvious echoes of both Jerry Goldsmith’s seminal Omen score, and Don Davis’s more recent House on Haunted Hill from 1999. It is also worth noting the unnerving African vocal effect Frizzell uses in “Katherine’ Faith”.

Often, Frizzell works a generous helping of electronic embellishment into his music, mimicking the frantic buzzing of locusts and the incessant white noise of a plague of flies, adding another dimension to his moments of terror. Cues such as “Katherine’s Faith”, “Why Not?”, the aforementioned “Costigan Burns” and “Flowing Blood” use this technique effectively, making use of both keyboards and electric cellos. The only obvious misfire is the slightly disappointing conclusion “The Reaping Title Sequence”, an industrial rock remix of one of the harsher choral themes which somehow leaves the score hanging on a somewhat unsatisfactorily inconclusive note.

Overall, The Reaping is a decent enough horror score, with plenty of interesting orchestral and vocal elements to make for an entertaining 45-minute album. Having worked recently on films like Ghost Ship, Thirteen Ghosts, Stay Alive and Primeval, John Frizzell is establishing himself as a go-to composer for Hollywood studio horror flicks, which at least keeps his name in the game and his average box office grosses high. It may not be especially original or innovative, but The Reaping achieves its aims and never outstays its welcome.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • The Incident in Chile (1:54)
  • The Call from Costigan (2:16)
  • Trip to Haven (2:47)
  • River of Blood (2:01)
  • Katherine Encounters Lauren (2:08)
  • Plague of Flies (3:47)
  • Katherine’s Story (2:36)
  • Katherine’s Faith (2:37)
  • Katherine Reaches For Lauren (1:23)
  • Why Not? (1:59)
  • Livestock (1:07)
  • Katherine Believes/Costigan Burns (4:34)
  • The Sacrifice Room (1:57)
  • Flowing Blood (1:56)
  • Locusts (1:55)
  • Ben is Dead/The Confrontation (1:59)
  • The Darkness (1:47)
  • God Intervenes (2:53)
  • The Boy (4:45)
  • The Reaping Title Sequence (1:58)

Running Time: 48 minutes 18 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6680 (2007)

Music composed by John Frizzell. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Andrew Kinney, Robert Elhai, Jeff Atmajian, John Frizzell, Hyesu Yang abd Jerome Leroy. Recorded and mixed by Casey Stone. Edited by Jim Harrison. Album produced by John Frizzell.

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