Home > Reviews > ANNABELLE: CREATION – Benjamin Wallfisch

ANNABELLE: CREATION – Benjamin Wallfisch

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The latest entry in writer-director-producer James Wan’s ever-expanding horror movie universe is Annabelle: Creation, the prequel to the 2014 film Annabelle. It tells the story of how the possessed doll from the original movie came into existence, expanding on a back story involving a toymaker and his wife whose daughter dies in mysterious circumstances. Twelve years later, the toymaker opens his large, but remote, farmhouse to a nun and several girls from an orphanage that has been closed, offering them a new home, but before long the girls find that something sinister is lurking in the shadows. The film is directed by David Sandberg, stars Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Anthony LaPaglia, and Miranda Otto, and has an original score by composer Benjamin Wallfisch.

One of the most satisfying things to happen in recent years has been the emergence of Benjamin Wallfisch as an exciting new talent in the film music world. Having spent many years working as a conductor and orchestrator for Dario Marianelli in the early 2000s, while working on several low budget indie scores of his own, he emerged into the scene as a solo artist through scores like The Escapist, Summer in February, and last year’s Lights Out, which was also directed by David Sandberg. In 2013 Wallfisch also began working with Hans Zimmer, writing additional music for scores like 12 Years a Slave and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and culminating in a Golden Globe nomination for the score for Hidden Figures he co-wrote with Zimmer and Pharrell Williams. This year Wallfisch has exploded; Annabelle: Creation is his third major work of the year, hot on the heels of A Cure for Wellness and Bitter Harvest, and with the remake of Stephen King’s It and Blade Runner 2049 to come.

Like Lights Out before it, Annabelle: Creation is one of those soundtracks that is incredibly difficult to review, simply because of its nature. It’s one of the most challenging and abrasive horror scores you are ever likely to hear, a cacophony of Krzysztof Penderecki-style shrieking strings, and brain-melting brass writing, arranged in a style that is avant-garde and progressive and uses a whole host of atonal and dissonant compositional techniques ranging from prepared pianos to pizzicato violins, and more. Speaking purely from a technical point of view, the score is great, and anyone whose musical viewpoint skews towards the dark and frightening will find Wallfisch’s experiments with orchestral sound to be fascinating. In the context of the film, the music is exactly what the director wanted: scary, lurid orchestral textures that rattle your teeth and haunt your dreams. It’s also impressive that Wallfisch has achieved this with an ensemble of entirely acoustic instruments – there is nary a synthesizer to be found anywhere in the score.

However, as an album of music, I found it to be almost completely intolerable. As far as I am able to discern these things, there doesn’t appear to be any carry-over of music from Joseph Bishara’s score for the original Annabelle; however, much like that earlier effort, 75% of the score is made up of those aforementioned dissonances. They pounce on you from dark corners, shriek in your ear, skitter across the floor, and occasionally explode into sequences of unyielding, abject horror. Cues like “Annabelle Awakened,” “Shadows and Sheets,” “Puppets and Mischief,” “Demon Fishing,” “The Possession,” “Samuel’s Death,” “Our Beloved Bee,” “Jannabelle,” and the conclusive “Conduit” are like aural nightmares. Some of them begin quietly, insidiously, lurking in the background with their discordant palettes of sound; others are like battering rams which assault the senses with huge, overwhelming walls of sound that moan and wail like something possessed. Occasionally the music just gets too overwhelmingly harsh – parts of the terrifying “Your Soul” and the grotesque “Demonquake,” for example – but it’s all done in the service of a film that needs it.

Fortunately, in the other 25% of the score, Wallfisch finds some moments where he can embrace a little more tonality. The opening moments of “Creation” feature gentle piano and strings, albeit with an undercurrent of malevolence; this cue also introduces a clever recurring instrumental timbre, in which the piano gradually becomes distorted and off-key, as if being warped by evil. “The Mullins Family” is pretty, warm, and lyrical, featuring strings, piano, and tender woodwinds, but is all-too-brief. “A New Home” continues the warmth, showcasing some lovely cello writing which is flushed with a hint of sadness.

Later, “Bee’s Photo” sees the return of the gloomy piano and string combo, as well as another appearance of the de-tuned prepared piano. “Avatars” features some soft piano lines offset by magical-sounding glockenspiels, chimes, and warm string harmonies. “The House is Blessed,” which follows an especially garish sequence of musical carnage, seems almost ecstatic in comparison, with hesitantly optimistic rising string lines, and a sense of relief in the chord progressions.

Of course, the soundtrack ends with an ultra-creepy old-timey rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” performed by 1930s Dixieland vocalist Charles McDonald. It seems to be fashionable these days to include sinister versions of old fashioned songs in horror movies; it happened with “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” which was used the same way in Insidious, and happened again with “Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan, which featured in the trailer for The Conjuring. Now this once innocuous song will be eternally tainted by the supernaturally unnerving connotations of Annabelle.

As I said, Annabelle: Creation is not really a soundtrack one can ‘enjoy’. It has one purpose, and one purpose only – to make a doll possessed by an evil spirit seem utterly terrifying to those watching the film – and under those criteria, the score is an unqualified success. Wallfisch’s technique, use of avant-garde compositional methods, and intricate use of the orchestra, is enormously impressive. And I never want to listen to it again.

Note: just as a matter of trivia, readers will want to note that the lead music editor on Annabelle: Creation is none other than Nate Underkuffler, who for years has posted on various film music message boards as “Nate U.” I have known Nate since he was a teenager at Berklee School of Music in Boston, where he waxed lyrical about the music of John Powell, and dreamed of being a film composer himself one day. Once, in 2004, he flew to London for a Howard Shore concert, and he and I (and others) spent an excellent weekend together, nerding out over film scores from a terrible basement hotel room in St. Pancras. I’m absolutely delighted for him that he is finding success in Hollywood!

Buy the Annabelle: Creation soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Creation (3:42)
  • The Mullins Family (0:43)
  • A New Home (1:28)
  • Bee’s Room (3:01)
  • Annabelle Awakened (2:18)
  • Bunkmates (1:01)
  • Shadows and Sheets (1:25)
  • Bee’s Photo (1:21)
  • Puppets and Mischief (1:16)
  • Your Soul (2:48)
  • Avatars (1:48)
  • Demon Fishing (2:47)
  • The Possession (1:44)
  • Linda’s Suspicion (0:45)
  • Samuel’s Death (2:26)
  • Our Beloved Bee (3:51)
  • Jannabelle (2:58)
  • Transformation (1:29)
  • Demonquake (2:36)
  • Police (1:37)
  • The House is Blessed (1:42)
  • Adoption (1:08)
  • Conduit (1:44)
  • You Are My Sunshine (written by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell, performed by Charles McDonald) (2:51)

Running Time: 48 minutes 40 seconds

Watertower Music (2017)

Music composed by Benjamin Wallfisch. Conducted by Tim Williams. Orchestrations by David J. Krystal, Jonathan Beard, Edward Trybek and Henri Wilkinson. Additional music by Ric Markmann, Dan Pinnella and Chris Wagner. Recorded and mixed by Tom Hardisty. Edited by Nate Underkuffler. Album produced by Benjamin Wallfisch.

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