Home > Reviews > I KNOW WHO KILLED ME – Joel McNeely


Original Review by Clark Douglas

No, I didn’t see “I Know Who Killed Me”. Let’s be honest, you didn’t either. In fact, looking at the box office stats for the R-rated Lindsay Lohan thriller, it seems that hardly anyone did. And why would they? The film’s trailers looked just plain terrible, the critic’s reviews were just plain terrible, and Lohan’s acting is just plain… well, to be fair, mediocre. It looks like the sort of film that was made to flop at the box office… the era of the sleaze thriller is over, kids, “Basic Instinct” was 15 years ago. You’d think they would learn a little quicker.

Speaking of that, I never expected “I Know Who Killed Me” to produce the finest trashy thriller score since Jerry Goldsmith’s effort for “Basic Instinct”. Music is provided by Joel McNeely, who undoubtedly accepted this assignment because he couldn’t get anything better. That’s a real shame, because McNeely is a fabulous composer. Like action? Check out “Soldier”, “Virus”, or “The Avengers”. Like beauty? You’re in for a treat with “Samantha” or “Sally Hemings: An American Scandal”. What about warm, expressive orchestral action/adventure/family drama scores? Boy, oh boy… “Holes”, “Iron Will”, “Gold Diggers”, and “Wild America” are all terrific hidden treasures. There’s more, too. It’s just a crying shame that nobody watches the movies McNeely scores.

Those of you who do know and love McNeely’s music will be absolutely thrilled when I tell you that “I Know Who Killed Me” is one of his very best scores. The movie undoubtedly deserves lazy sound design and dark electronic noises, McNeely provides a score that is startlingly intense and intelligent. The opening strains of “Prelude for a Madam” recall the icy thrills of “Alien”, and “Duality” gently introduces us to the mystery of the story, two woodwinds descending into silence.

The score’s primary instrument is the piano, and it introduces the “Fairytale Theme”… the score’s primary element. The phrase “haunting” is tossed around a lot in score reviews, and this is the sort of theme that the word was invented to describe. Oddly enough, the last themes that inspired such a thought were the themes for “Tideland” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”… also scores that attempted to contrast fairy tale elements with dark, cruel, cold worlds. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for scores like this, but McNeely’s effort is every bit as worthy of praise as those two fabulous efforts. I sincerely doubt that the film is as intelligent as “Tideland” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”, but that doesn’t seem to keep McNeely from achieving stunning heights.

The darkest elements of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” drift through the brief “A Daughter is Dead”, truly ominous music. “End of Innocence/Aubrey is Gone” permits the sleazy world of strippers the film presents to sneak in, portrayed by sinister electronics. McNeely digs deeper into the “Alien”-like darkness in “A Mother’s Grief”, one of the darkest and most despairing pieces of music you will hear this year. More electronic pulsing clashes with intelligent orchestral scares, “Spontaneous Bleed” is especially creepy. McNeely allows a female vocal to perform his fairy tale theme in “Going Home”, very reminiscent of “Pan’s Labyrinth”.

As the album continues, it divides it’s time between subtle suspense, tender themes, and savage horror, each element done very well. The very brief title cue makes a big impression in it’s 56 seconds, a very eerie and atmospheric take on the main theme with a nice violin solo. “Death of Norquist” ends with some intense piano crashings, and the album’s closing score cue, “Prelude/Reunited” is a very satisfying close, bringing back the score’s primary ideas, but centering around the richest performance of the fairy tale theme (with particularly impassioned strings worthy of John Williams).

As the album closes, we are given a surprising revelation of the origins of the fairy tale theme… it is, in fact, a piano piece by Chopin, adapted and arranged by McNeely to take on slightly more mysterious “fairy tale” quality. Presenting the Chopin piece in it’s original, unaltered form seems a very gracious, appropriate, and somehow ominous way to conclude this supremely intelligent album of film music. One of the year’s best scores, a must-have for those who are willing to take a trip into a deep, dark, and sometimes terrifying musical world.

Rating: *****

Track Listing:

  • Prelude for a Madman (0:54)
  • Duality (1:30)
  • Fairytale Theme (2:16)
  • A Daughter is Dead (1:04)
  • End of Innocence/Aubrey is Gone (1:43)
  • A Mother’s Gift (3:36)
  • Search for Aubrey (1:48)
  • The Bus Stop (1:21)
  • Spontaneous Bleed (2:35)
  • Going Home (1:51)
  • Jennifer’s Room (1:27)
  • Some People Get Cut (1:30)
  • Investigating Stigmata (1:41)
  • The Mirror (2:26)
  • The Graveyard (1:43)
  • I Know Who Killed Me (0:56)
  • The House (3:21)
  • Dad Dies (2:26)
  • Death of Norquist (1:45)
  • Prelude/Reunited (3:21)
  • Valse Brillante, Op.34 No.2 in A Minor (written by Frédéric Chopin) (5:01)

Running Time: 44 minutes 15 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6833 (2007)

Music composed and conducted by Joel McNeely. Orchestrations by Josh Grant. Featured musical soloist Klaus Berhmal. Special vocal performances by Caitlin Kazepis. Recorded and mixed by Rich Breen. Album produced by Joel McNeely.

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