Interview: THE HALLOW Director and Composer Discuss Creating Last Year’s Hit Horror Film
When “The Hallow” premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival movie goers had no idea what to expect, especially with it being Corin Hardy’s first film. Fast forward to its theatrical release last November, fans and critics couldn’t get enough of this genre bending film. Inverse.com went on to call the film “The Best Horror Film of 2015” and Entertainment Weekly says it has “A distinct flavor all of its own.” Since the film’s soundtrack is getting released this week we decided to sit down with the film’s director, Corin Hardy, and composer, James Gosling to discuss a little more about their work process and how this film came to be the “It Follows” of 2015.
-In what part of the filmmaking process did you start thinking about the film’s score?
Very early on from the first outline, throughout many years of script writing, I created playlists of songs & music, scores and folk tunes that inspired a world, tone and atmosphere of The Hallow. I was searching for a composer who could balance something grand and epic with something authentic and strange. I wanted to create something that was grounded in reality but in essence felt like a ‘real life fairytale’.
-What did you like most about James’ music that led you to hire him for The Hallow?
We discussed other movies that had inspired me and the kind of balance that I wanted to achieve, cinematic, grand and unnerving and sometimes off kilter and jarring. James’ previous music demonstrated a great strength in storytelling and in his ability to support the story without overwhelming it and that really built alongside the vision on the screen. With The Hallow, to some extent, I wanted to make a somewhat classical, timeless movie and I felt that James had a similar old school sensibility that he shared with some of my favorite composers.
-Is there a favorite scene out of the film that you think the score really took the suspense to the next level?
There’s two, more than two, but these two spring to mind (***SPOILERS!*** GO SEE THE FILM BEFORE READING!): One of my favorite scenes in the film is the landing scene when they have secured the baby in the cupboard and all should be well, until the safety of dawn arrives. We reach a nice moment of stillness after a somewhat frantic section, both visually & musically. Adam is reading the book and Claire is starting to suspect something is up with him. She wants to check the baby is ok. James uses ultra minimalist but perfectly off-timed low notes here that kind of underpin Claire’s brooding uncertainty (and precursor the audiences suspicions) as she eventually opens the cupboard to discover……..! (not going to spoiler THAT much..) Very pleased with that, and then in comparison and contrast, there’s the more grand and magical score that it transforms into a while later when Adam is entering the overgrown basement.. It becomes primal and desperate and huge. I’m also pleased that we managed to get my brother Robin Guy’s live drums into the score to really get the blood pumping.
-How would you describe The Hallow soundtrack in a few words?
Haunting, heart-breaking, unnerving and organic. Timeless and classical. A score for a modern day fairytale.
-What are some of your previous favorite horror movie scores that have really stuck out to you?
So many! I guess they’re similar to some of my favorite movies; Ennio Morricone’s minimalist dread of ‘The Thing’. Jerry Goldsmith’s epic, magical, sci-fi-horror in ‘Alien’ and also the rugged and lonesome ‘First Blood’. Mica Levi’s more recent abstract and emotional score to ‘Under The Skin’ took me by surprise. Alan Silvestri’s incredible marriage of jungle themes and sci-fi in ‘Predator’. Javier Navarette’s haunting fairytale lullaby ‘Pans Labyrinth’. James Newton Howard’s folksy violin led ‘The Village’. I also love Basil Poledouris’ powerful, driving score to ‘Robocop’ and finally, the score to Antonia Bird’s underrated film ‘Ravenous’; my favorite of Damon Albarn’s musical work (working with Michael Nymen).
-What was your work process like with James on this film?
Well James worked so hard, under a lot of pressure and I will be eternally grateful. Because of the amount of post work we needed to plan around & work through in the editorial process, it was difficult to get complete reels to James until late in the day, so although we had discussed in detail the score and he was able to begin putting themes together, he didn’t have as long as he would have liked to complete everything, especially when we found out that we got into Sundance. It was tough. James and I were often working from different parts of the world but we skyped regularly and it came together right at the finish line. It was an emotional moment standing in the wonderful Aardmore Sound Mixing Stage with my producers and Steve Fanagan the sound designer and watching the film back in entirety for the first time, with James’ whole score playing, something I’ll never forget. Many thanks to James for getting us there and creating something special.
-What was your favorite part about working with director Corin Hardy on The Hallow?
The best thing about working with Corin is that he possesses so many of the qualities I enjoy in people. As well as his obvious talent, he manages to combine it with being a thoroughly decent and calm individual which I think is no mean feat for someone who was nearing the end of such a long journey in which he had invested so much time and energy. I personally felt a huge responsibility in taking on this job for this very reason, but Corin from the outest with his feet firmly on the ground helped keep me grounded and focused and calm, which was essential as that finish line loomed larger day by day, and I’m so relieved and pleased, for both of us but especially for Corin, that in the end we managed to create something that works well and that played such a crucial role in helping the film become as effective as it is.
-Music aside, do you have a favorite scene in the movie?
I have a few. Corin’s already nabbed one of them – the landing scene – I know you said music aside but it was a great rediscovery as to how effective minimal scoring can be in perfectly ratcheting up the tension. Another would have to be the final scene, a kind of aftermath epilogue. I think because the way it’s shot: the stillness, the haunting memories of a cursed house, and the emotional undercurrent, one of loss and relief, makes it such a potent piece of filmmaking. It took me 3 attempts to get this cue right, and it was the last cue to come together just as the finish line was upon us which was such a surreal time – all a bit of a blur – but somehow this cue just arose from seemingly nowhere and now it’s one of my favorites. Sorry it seems putting music aside isn’t a strong point I’ve just realized!
-I read that you had to produce this score pretty quickly. If you didn’t have any time constraints what would you do differently?
Firstly, I’d have slept more. A lot more. Though that said it’s amazing how sleep-depravation and impending doom focuses the mind and aids creativity. After that I would have liked to experiment more. There are scenes in the movie that I would love to have another go at still to see if there could be better ways found to bring out the emotion and drama, better ways to focus the thematic material etc but that said creative perfectionism is a thirst never quenched, and this sense of what if this or what if that would probably always be the case however much time I had.
-Can we expect your soundtrack to be released for this film?
Yes, it’s currently in the process of being produced by Mikael Carlsson at MoviesScore Media, and will be released very soon.
-When you saw the final film for the first time, music and all, what were your initial thoughts?
Well, to be honest the very first time was preceded by a get together with friends and folks I’d worked with but never met in person, and I’d had a few drinks, which coupled with the general excitement meant the whole thing was a bit of a blur and difficult to take in. But a few weeks later I went to watch it again at the festival in Sitges, and this time I was sensible and didn’t drink and I was honestly blown away by what Team Hallow had managed to achieve in every department: the sound, the cinematography, the special effects, all of which Corin had managed to masterfully weave together around some great central performances from Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovic, and from the supporting cast too, to create finally a really exciting and moving cinematic experience. And the audience reaction on both occasions was great. The woman next to me at Frightfest kept scaring the bejesus out of me as she jumped and gasped her way through the film, which was awesome because I knew what was coming.
-What was the very first thing you did when you creating this score?
The very first thing I did was spend a few days immersing myself in the horror genre by watching the films Corin and I talked about and any others I could think of in order to get into the right place emotionally and tonally, and also to see how other composers had approached the genre from Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Alien to Hans Zimmer for the Ring and a whole bunch in between. After that I spent some time searching for certain electronic ingredients that I wanted as part of the palette, and then I set about working on reel one carefully chipping away to see what ideas and thematic material would reveal themselves.
James Gosling’s soundtrack for the film will be available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and Google Play February 5, 2016. You can learn more about James here https://www.jamesgosling.net/.