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Woman in Black by Marco Beltrami

Woman in Black

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Woman in Black (Soundtrack) by Marco Beltrami
Woman in Black (Soundtrack) by Marco Beltrami
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Woman in Black (Soundtrack) by Marco Beltrami

Woman in Black
Composed by Marco Beltrami
Silva America Records (2012)

Rating: 5/10

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“Like most outings in this genre, it does work far better in the film, but BELTRAMI has written horror scores in the past that were appealing both in and out of context. ”

Haunted Music
Review by Edmund Meinerts
 


 

 

THE WOMAN IN BLACK is a ghost story of the old school. Taking place during the Edwardian era in England, it features the ominously-named Eel Marsh House, creepy visions that only certain people can see, mysteriously locked doors, things that go bump in the night…in short, the works. Originally a horror novel by Susan Hill written in 1983, the bone-chilling tale rose to fame thanks to Stephen Mallatratt’s popular stage adaptation, which opened in London in 1989 and continues to run to this day. Inevitably, a Hollywood film adaptation followed, produced by the revived Hammer Film Productions company. It stars Daniel Radcliffe in his first notable non-Potter role as the young solicitor Arthur Kipps, who must stay at Eel Marsh House for a few days in order to sort out the paperwork of its recently-deceased owner. Of course, it isn’t long before he starts seeing visions of a mysterious woman in black…

Hardly a stranger to the horror genre is MARCO BELTRAMI, for whom THE WOMAN IN BLACK represents a routine assignment. BELTRAMI’s track record in the genre is somewhat hit-and-miss, ranging from grandiose, lyrical triumphs such as MIMIC or DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK to purely functional, borderline-unlistenable efforts such as JOY RIDE, MY SOUL TO TAKE or SCRE4M. THE WOMAN IN BLACK resides somewhere between the two, featuring lengthy stretches of dissonant underscore and tired horror techniques offset by an understated, but lyrical thematic base.

That base consists of two central identities, one for Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipps and the other for the titular Woman in Black,. The Woman’s theme is introduced in the first track, “Tea for Three Plus One” (1), in the form of a DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK-like music-box lullaby. This theme is arguably the more compelling of the two, but it sadly goes underutilized and is only referenced in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fragments throughout the score, such as the first four notes at the outset of “Voices in the Mist” (5) or the end of “The Attic Room” (9). Its most robust statement in the first cue is frustratingly overtaken by whining, dissonant strings, marring its enjoyability on album.

Arthur’s theme is more frequent, its hesitant six-note phrases (a descending pair followed by a four-note turn) first appearing in “The Woman in Black” (2). This theme is often accompanied by a mechanically churning five-note motif for strings or harp, which often wanders off on its own. The score’s few non-dissonant and therefore most appealing cues are usually given over to the quietly mysterious development of this theme, from “Bills Past Due” (4) all the way to “Reunion” (21) and “Arthur’s Theme” (22) at the very end. A hammered dulcimer or zither-like instrument occasionally adds a bit of flavor to these cues.

The straight suspense and horror music in THE WOMAN IN BLACK, unfortunately, is much less interesting by comparison, with BELTRAMI trotting out orchestral techniques familiar to the genre: whining and scratching strings, choral accents ranging from eerie high female shades to whispering effects, backwards edits, and that perennial horror device that becomes simply unbearable on album: the stinger. Because this horror story is one of chills and dread rather than outright gore, BELTRAMI never really gets the chance to unleash his orchestra with the ferocity of, say, THE THING’s action cues. Two of the horror cues do stand out somewhat: firstly, the creative usage of rocking chair creaking in “The Door Opens” (10) will send a shiver down the spine of anybody familiar with the story. Secondly, the impressive force of “Into the Fire” (16) is the score’s dramatic peak, featuring large-scale, but deeply troubled statements of both the Woman’s and Arthur’s themes.

Still, it’s hard to really feel satisfied with THE WOMAN IN BLACK. The twenty minutes or so of thematic material is promisingly handled, but the remainder of the overlong 55-minute album is weighed down by the drab, dissonant filler (cues 17-20 drag particularly). This score in its entirety isn’t likely to appeal to anyone but the most forgiving BELTRAMI fans. Like most outings in this genre, it does work far better in the film, but BELTRAMI has written horror scores in the past that were appealing both in and out of context. In the end, this is nothing more or less than a competent, average, unremarkable horror score, and whether you take it or leave it will likely depend on your tolerance of the genre as a whole.


 

Rating: 5/10


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Tea for Three Plus One 1:41  ***
2 The Woman in Black 1:57  ****
3 Crossing the Causeway 2:24  ***
4 Bills Past Due 1:22  ****
5 Voices in the Mist 2:00  **
6 Journey North 2:56  ****
7 Cellar Eye 2:49  ***
8 First Death 2:00  ***
9 The Attic Room 1:56  ***
10 The Door Opens 1:45  ***
11 Fireside 2:30  ***
12 You Could Have Saved Him 2:58  ***
13 Crazy Writing 2:16  **
14 In the Graveyard 2:56  **
15 Elisabeth's Vision 3:40  ***
16 Into the Fire 3:58  ****
17 Jennet's Letters 2:12  **
18 Race to the Marsh 2:11  **
19 Rising to the Marsh 2:11  **
20 Summoning the Woman in Black 4:27  ***
21 Reunion 1:42  ***
22 Arthur's theme 2:46  ****
  Total Running Time (approx) 55 minutes  

 

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