Home > Reviews > ANNABELLE – Joseph Bishara

ANNABELLE – Joseph Bishara

October 21, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

annabelleOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

A prequel to last year’s popular movie The Conjuring, Annabelle tells the story of a young couple in the 1960s who, after being attacked in their home by members of a satanic cult, both of whom are subsequently killed by the police, begin experiencing a number of terrifying supernatural occurrences. After consulting with several experts familiar with the cult, the woman, Mia, starts to believe that the supernatural events are linked to one of her vintage dolls, Annabelle, which the female cult member was holding when she was killed; worse still, Mia comes to the realization that the supernatural events seem to be targeting her newborn daughter… The film is directed by long-time cinematographer John Leonetti, stars Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton and Alfre Woodard, and has an original score by composer Joseph Bishara, whose music has graced some of the most popular and successful horror movies of the past few years.

Bishara is a composer whose musical tastes veer significantly towards the ‘darker’ side of film music, and who embraces more abstract, edgier ideas, as opposed to someone like, say, Christopher Young, whose music for films in this genre tends to have a bolder, gothic, romantic edge, even when he is scoring scenes of utter carnage. Scores like Insidious, Dark Skies, and The Conjuring all rocked to the sound of shrieking violins, ear-shattering stingers, and extreme dissonance. These techniques all work wonderfully well in the context of the film while you are experiencing it, but are difficult to appreciate on a standalone soundtrack CD, due to their challenging structure, intentional sonic unpleasantness, and all-encompassing mood of overwhelming dread.

In Annabelle, all these things are still present in the score, but more than any other previous Joseph Bishara score, there are hints of melody and tenderness peeking through the veil of horror, which makes the listening experience much more palatable, allowing some delineation between the still extensive sequences of extremely demanding writing. “Found at Prayer,” “No Chance,” and “Evil is Constant” combine a hesitant, pretty piano melody with a gauzy string wash that is quite appealing; “Return Home” and the conclusive pair “The New Changes” and “New Beginnings” are almost warm and inviting, gentle depictions of suburban idyll, away from all the blood and death; elsewhere, “Shaken Foundations” expresses more in the way of sadness than it does terror, and for me represents an important step forward for the composer in terms of his musical depiction of the emotional torment the characters endure, rather than just the physical and psychological damage inflicted by the demons.

However, the vast majority of the score still dwells in the darkness, reveling in Bishara’s increasingly unique brand of orchestral mayhem. There are definite hints of contemporary avant-garde composers like György Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki in some of Bishara’s string writing; the dense clusters of sound, the buzzing, insect-like phrasing, the guttural double bass chords, the overpowering shifts in volume that simply overwhelm the listener with true cacophony. Cues like “Annabelle Opening,” the nerve-shredding “Not My Blood,” “Broken Needle,” the violent-sounding “Black Stroller,” “Disciples of the Ram,” and the nightmarish “Demon Doll Rises,” are impressive in this regard, and show Bishara to be a composer with an increasingly impressive grasp of modernist techniques and sound manipulation. There is a recurring motif of sorts – a groaning, whining violin texture that appears to be associated with Annabelle herself and the horrors that surround her – but beyond this one idea, the score is generally bereft of thematic substance, and instead is content to stay ‘in the moment’, scoring each new fearsome encounter as it comes.

Some of the cues, such as “It’s the One” and “What Do You Want From Me,” augment the orchestra with droning synth textures, and there is even a cameo appearance from a Hammond organ in “Her Soul” and “Annabelle Soaring,” which sounds like it would be out of place, but actually isn’t. Other cues seem to feature unnerving vocal effects, many of them digitally manipulated to give them an even more unsettling edge, including whimpering sounds, trilling tongues, and twisted cooing sounds that feel like demons pretending to be angels, or something unholy crying for its mother. Headphone-listeners need to be especially wary of “Devil Ram,” which scared the life out of me when it suddenly began gasping and hissing in my ear towards the end of the track.

Despite all this general positivity, I feel I still need to make it absolutely clear: Annabelle remains a very challenging, very difficult album to experience, and anyone with an aversion to extreme dissonance and dark, chaotic atmospheres will often find themselves recoiling in disgust from Bishara’s vivid music. The intent of this music is to scare the cinema patron with explosions of sound, and in that respect it succeeds entirely. However, more than it did in any of his previous efforts, Bishara’s music here also impressed me on a purely technical level; once you’ve gotten past the initial shock of the sound, it’s actually quite fascinating to sit and try to dissect what each part of the string section is doing at any given moment, as more often than not they are performing independently of each other, creating fascinating, inter-woven collisions of noise. All of this, combined with the very subtle increase in overall harmonic beauty, and a few moments of genuine emotional warmth, make Annabelle the best score of Joseph Bishara’s career to date.

Buy the Annabelle soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Annabelle Opening (2:18)
  • Found at Prayer (1:01)
  • It’s the One (1:24)
  • Not My Blood (3:58)
  • Cult Killings (0:40)
  • Return Home (1:15)
  • Promise Me (0:55)
  • Doll Disposal (0:35)
  • Broken Needle (2:23)
  • Doll is Back (1:34)
  • Shaken Foundations (1:23)
  • Black Stroller (2:38)
  • Disciples of the Ram (2:42)
  • They Summon (2:28)
  • The Devil Preys (1:32)
  • Demon Doll Rises (3:04)
  • No Chance (1:40)
  • Devil Ram (1:42)
  • What Do You Want From Me? (2:00)
  • Her Soul (3:33)
  • The Fallen (1:59)
  • Evil is Constant (1:36)
  • Annabelle Closing (0:47)
  • Annabelle Soaring (1:53)
  • The New Changes (2:24)
  • New Beginnings (3:28)

Running Time: 51 minutes 07 seconds

Watertower Music WTM-39608 (2014)

Music composed by Joseph Bishara. Conducted by Jeffrey Holmes. Orchestrations by Dana Niu. Recorded and mixed by Chris Spilfogel. Edited by Julie Pierce. Album produced by Joseph Bishara.

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