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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Johan Soderqvist's Let the Right One In: A Score as Transcendent as the Movie For Which It Was Written

I'm one of those movie fanatics who has also been deeply obsessed with quality film scores. Collected them all my life, from vinyl, to cassette, to CD, to download. Every now and then I have the pleasure of discovering one that really blows me away, and I have to shout to the rooftops about how great it is. The latest one to rock my world in this way is Johan Soderqvist's sublime motion picture soundtrack for Tomas Alfredson's sublime motion picture Let the Right One In. It's certainly no accident that it won the 2008 Cyber Horror Award for Best Score.

Anyone who's watched and loved the movie is bound to have already been struck by the beauty of its score, but its only when you listen to it on its own, and focus on the music itself, that you really appreciate how excellent it is. This is movie music of the highest order--not only listenable on its own merits, but matched perfectly to the specific events of the movie it was written for, the very quality that helped catapult John Williams to film score superstardom.

The score is dominated by two main themes, which are essentially linked to the movie's two central characters, Oskar and Eli. In fact, the main theme of Let the Right One In is specifically entitled "Eli's Theme", and man does this Nino Rota-esque melody pack a powerful emotional punch. Initially iterated using a full string section, it pops up later on in tracks like "The Father" in the form of solo guitar. And finally, in the title track that accompanies the closing credits, it begins in guitar form, and then the strings take it over, "sweetening it into a phrase of such delight," as Salieri described Mozart's "Gran Partita" Serenade in Amadeus.

In short, this utterly beguiling theme epitomizes the ethereal combination of sadness and otherwordly beauty embodied by Eli, the ageless vampire trapped in the body of a little girl.

The film's other major theme is more closely associated with Eli's devoted human friend, Oskar. First presented in the track "Oskar in Love", it takes the form of a simple, understated piano melody that captures not only the enigmatic character of Oskar, but also the quiet, almost stark beauty of the Swedish landscape in which the movie's action takes place.

One of the most remarkable things Soderqvist does with this particular theme occurs in the track
"Death of Hakan", which accompanies the scene in which Oskar witnesses Eli murdering the revenge-minded local who comes to her apartment. As Oskar takes in this decidedly sinister side of the girl he loves for the very first time, the already established Oskar theme goes from a hopeful major key to a much more foreboding minor one. This is thoughtful movie scoring.

And speaking of sinister, don't think the whole score is composed entirely of touchy-feely sweet stuff. This is a horror movie after all, and there's plenty of suitably atonal, ambient fare to be found, particularly in tracks such as "The Slaughter", "Hiding the Body", and "Lacke Dies". Prodigious use of rolling kettle drums and clanking metal sound effects provide the needed air of dread, and remind the listener of the duality of this picture.

In fact, it's rare that you'll find such a schizophrenic score that pulls it off so well, switching from poignant to dark and malevolent from one track to the next. And in the track "Eli Bleeds", Soderqvist even manages to transition between the two, going from horrifying, as Eli stands in Oskar's threshold oozing dark plasma from her pores, to the bright love theme once Oskar gives her permission to enter and the bleeding stops.

But for my money, the Let the Right One In score is much more about Soderqvist's touching and mesmerizing major themes than the more run-of-the-mill, slightly repetitive stuff that represents the "horror end" of things. The melodies that Soderqvist has crafted here deserve major attention, and one can only hope that this piece will lead to a more mainstream (read: American) audience soon discovering his work. This is movie music at its finest. Pick it up now.


BJ Colangelo said...

I desperately need to get my hands on this.
It's beautiful.

James Gracey said...

I recently watched Let the Right One In and was also struck by the beauty of the score. It perfectly enhances the eerie atmosphere and chilly landscapes the story unfolds within. Great review. Must try and listen to this score again.


I got the soundtrack from iTunes about a week or two ago. It is great listening...

Ms Harker said...

I have been gushing everywhere about this book and film. I agree part of what maintains the still and eerie quality of Let The Right One In is the score. However this is also supported by the chilling environment and atmosphere, enhanced by the ambiguous feelings you have towards Eli and Oskar as their relationship develops.


B-Sol said...

Well put. It's a very challenging ending, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. An emotional complex, and very rewarding film.

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