Film Soundtrack Review: It (2017)

A twisted playground of sounds within a brilliantly constructed score

Let’s be honest, horror movies wouldn’t be half as scary without a disconcerting soundtrack accompanied with pin-point sound design. But when executed well, they become the very heart of a film, integral in bringing a thrilling three-dimensional experience to the genre. Written by Stephen King in 1986, It tells the story of seven children in the sleepy town of Derry, Maine, who are terrorised by the eponymous being, It, over the course of a summer vacation. Fast forward to 2017, via a 1990 television miniseries, and the clown that scared so many has returned, this time to the big screen, in a version just as chilling as previous adaptations. Composed by Benjamin Wallfisch (Hidden Figures), the luscious orchestral score oozes sophistication, and together with impactful sound design, creates a bloodcurdling sonic atmosphere just as terrifying as the on-screen action itself.

Oranges and Leitmotifs

Introduced at the beginning of the film is the traditional English nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’; a musical leitmotif that reoccurs throughout. George Orwell’s use of the same nursery rhyme from his dystopian novel 1984 immediately springs to mind, but It brings a sonically sinister twist to this innocent jingle. The eerie opening creates an inescapable cocoon of sound around the viewer as the child’s voice paves the way for the rumble of strings that slowly creep into the mix, segueing into Wallfisch’s more musically lyrical content.

The instrumentation is varied enough to stay completely engaging throughout, from incredibly minimal orchestral textures to rich, expansive musical moments which marry well to the on-screen action. Playful melodies echo childhood nostalgia all round, while the underlying harmonies are constantly fluid and wide-ranging – very akin to the on-screen shape-shifting nature of Pennywise the clown. Wallfisch utilises screeching, slippery strings to add plenty of stomach-turning tension to scenes, inducing goose-bumps along the way.

At times, the ethereal chord progressions from the orchestra seamlessly intertwine with ambient electronic sounds, creating a much darker, heavier and chaotic score. Sonic memories from childhood appear frequently – and are perhaps subsequently corrupted; music box jingles, laughing toy clowns, and fairground organs are creatively used, adding to the petrifying demeanour of society’s most controversial entertainer. The overall combination of irking cinematography and unsettling sound design proves to be fiercely effective as Pennywise ensnares the viewer into a very tangible nightmare.

The ‘Oranges and Lemons’ leitmotif is inventively processed throughout, becoming most intense during moments of terror, with the frequency and speed of the singing sometimes raised to an erratic level, and together with added distortion, creates a disturbing soundscape.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom; in certain places Wallfisch manages to beautifully convey the nostalgia of those seemingly never-ending summer vacations spent getting up to mischief with friends. Gone are the unnerving harmonies, now replaced with warm, musical overtones sprinkled with sentimentality that will leave you yearning for your youth.

Set in 1989, the film makes many aesthetic nods to the decade, with songs spanning a variety of genres used throughout to reinforce the summery vibe and historical setting. Viewers are treated to the long-forgotten tunes of artists like Young MC, New Kids On The Block, and Anthrax. However, it is XTC’s Dear God that adds a moment of poignancy to the film at a point where everything seems to have fallen to pieces. The song, with the first verse sang by a child, takes on a new level of meaning as it transforms the worries of our near-adolescent characters into a plea for help against the ever-apparent threat looming over their town.

This latest adaptation of It is a gripping thrill ride, staying true to the original story written over 30 years ago. Part of its success is owed to the intelligent and engaging storytelling of Wallfisch’s orchestral score and resourceful sound design, which truly demonstrate the importance of sound to elevate the viewers experience – but we recommend not listening to it when going to sleep.

– Alex Weston

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Missed our Baby Driver review? Read it here.

1 Comment

  • Francois Pheulpin says:

    Did not know you were doing Soundtrack reviews.. i’m a big score fan.. Nice :)

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