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THE OFFERING – Christopher Young

February 17, 2023 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the most frustrating things to have happened over the last few years in film music is the apparent slow decline of Christopher Young’s career. This remarkable composer – the man behind such stellar works as Hellraiser, Murder in the First, Drag Me to Hell, The Monkey King, and so many others – has scored just a handful of major theatrical films in the United States in the last decade, with the last true box office successes being the remake of Pet Sematary in 2019, and then Sinister back in 2012. Seemingly the only people who remain loyal to him are independent horror directors, who regularly hire him to bring his unique sound to their films. Many of them likely grew up listening to Young’s earliest works from the 1980s – experimental efforts like The Dorm that Dripped Blood, The Power, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 – and so in many ways one could say he has returned to his roots. The latest director to do this is Oliver Park, who hired him for his film The Offering.

The film – which was originally entitled ‘Abyzou’ before switching to this less abstract name – is set in a Hassidic Jewish community and draws heavily from its folklore. It stars Nick Blood, Emily Wiseman, Allan Corduner, and Paul Kaye, and follows a devoutly religious family of funeral directors that falls foul of an ancient demon which, in their culture, is supposed to be responsible for miscarriages and infant mortality. Specifically, the movie is set in the wake of a young girl’s disappearance, and involves a son who returns home and tries to reconcile with his estranged father, the difficult pregnancy of the son’s wife, and some rather unsavory events involving a corpse in the family’s morgue. The film was released straight to video-on-demand services in January 2023, and was met with mostly favorable reviews, many of which praised the acting and creepy atmosphere, but criticized its lack of originality and its over-reliance on jump scares.

When announcing Young’s hiring back in 2021, director Park said: “When we think of great composers in horror, there are very few names on the list, but one name that will always command that space is Christopher Young. I’ve been a fan of Chris since I was too young to know who he was! I was obsessed with horror films, and one of the first films I ever watched was Hellraiser. I developed a keen interest in sound as it truly is what makes horror great, and I would often listen to Christopher Young soundtracks while reading horror novels. Abyzou was set to be scary before, but now he’s involved, even I’m afraid!”

Now, I’m not one whose easily spooked by music but, without a word of a lie, The Offering is one of the most unsettling soundtracks I have ever heard. The cornerstone of the score is an original song, “Hear the Souls Who Weep,” which was written by Young and has original lyrics by Emmy winner Dennis Spiegel, but which is then deconstructed and tortured and mutilated over the course of the score’s running time until it becomes almost unrecognizable. Young augments the song with a small instrumental palette, comprising various percussion items, a prepared piano, a small number of string soloists including a plucked bass, and a shofar ram’s horn that, as many know, was traditionally used in Jewish religious ceremonies. These are blended with various electronic synth textures, sound effects, and vocals, some of which were performed by Young himself, and which then coalesce into a horrifying whole.

The short soundtrack album comprises just three cues – the 15-minute “Abyzou,” the 11-minute “The Thief of Unborn,” and the 8-minute “Horrid Screams of Hell” – in a 35 minute package that will likely test the patience and the constitution of even the most experienced horror music fans. This is where that classic film music dichotomy comes into play – that of music I like, versus music that is good. The Offering is, without a shadow of a doubt, good music. It does exactly what it is intended to do in context, which is create a creepy mood of dread and apprehension, acknowledge the religious and cultural undertones of Judaism, and then scare the ever-loving shit out of the listener with music that is grotesquely disturbing on multiple levels. But it’s also music that, for the most part, I absolutely hate listening to independently. I had to stop listening to it several times while writing this review so that I could take a break and gather myself. Yes, it’s that intense.

Each of the three score tracks opens with a few lines of the “Hear the Souls Who Weep” song, usually performed by the angelic young vocalist Carli Duda, but which then gradually become warped and distorted and transformed into something monstrous. Young surrounds Duda’s voice with an array of different vocal techniques ranging from whispering and muttering to throat singing, all-out shrieking, and perhaps even a reprise of the ‘musical vomiting’ sound Young previously provided for Drag Me to Hell in 2009. Once in a while the vocal manipulation makes it sound as though Young hired the unique and avant-garde vocalist Diamanda Galás for this score (he didn’t); anyone who knows what she sounds like will know what this means. I once described her vocal timbre as akin to someone who had gargled with razor blades.

All throughout “Abyzou” and “The Thief of Unborn” there are extended periods filled with an array of string harmonics, low electronic drones, creaking and groaning sounds, gently shimmering metallic textures, and moments that approach the style of musique concréte that Young has explored in several other prior scores. A lot of the overall ‘tone’ of the score is darkly religious, as if Young was somehow taking musical inspirations from Jewish sacred texts and turning them into something horrific, warped, and demonic. Some of the sounds and textures Young uses clearly echo ones he previously used in scores like Hellraiser, The Grudge, The Vagrant, and Bless the Child, among others, which clearly place this score within the pantheon of Young’s most interesting horror creations. It’s clever, and brilliantly effective, but it’s going to make some listeners greatly uncomfortable.

The patient will be rewarded at the 4:33 mark of “Horrid Screams of Hell,” after which point Young finally unleashes some of the enormous gothic orchestral forces for which he is best known, and turns in a huge performance of the main ‘Hear the Souls Who Weep’ theme in a style on a par with scores like Ghost Rider and Priest. The effect of hearing this symphonic consonance after experiencing so much excruciating dissonance is really quite shocking, but it nevertheless reminds us just how bold and powerful Young can be when the circumstances demand it. The final cue is an extended performance of the “Hear the Souls Who Weep” song performed by Carli Duda featuring violinist Hannah Zhang and guitarist John J. Lee; it has the sound of a creepy-beautiful lullaby, and is a perfect coda to the score.

The Offering is certainly not a score for everyone, and anyone who was drawn to Christopher Young’s music via his large-scale orchestral gothic horror works, or via his more traditionally symphonic scores like Murder in the First and The Shipping News, will likely find the overwhelming majority of this score to be entirely intolerable. This is difficult, uncompromising music – intentionally so – and like many scores of this type it’s easy to admire and appreciate for its creativity, but outside of the thematic statement at the end of the third track, and the song, is very difficult to actually enjoy on an aesthetic level. The unwary should approach with caution.

Buy the Offering soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Abyzou (15:25)
  • The Thief of Unborn (10:50)
  • Horrid Screams of Hell (8:06)
  • Hear the Souls Who Weep (written by Christopher Young and Dennis Spiegel, performed by Carli Duda, Hannah Zhang, and John J. Lee) (4:30)

Running Time: 38 minutes 53 seconds

Notefornote Music NFN-1029 (2023)

Music composed by Christopher Young. Orchestrations by Christopher Young and Jared Banta. Special vocal performances by Carli Duda, Christopher Young and Daniel Wehr. Recorded and mixed by Max Blomgren. Album produced by Christopher Young, John J. Lee, Matthew Rosales, Peter Hackman and Bryon Davis.

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