A Cure For Wellness

a-cure-for-wellness-score-cover
Benjamin Wallfisch (2017)

 

 

Why You Should…
If your thirst for a hungrily appetising horror score must be quenched, Benjamin Wallfisch rising up to the challenge and easily exceeding expectations with this haunting score.

Why You Shouldn’t…
If the minimal array of thematic dearth limits your enjoyment, or if the synthetic abrasions wear away at your ears despite a necessary purpose in context.

Release Date: 17th February 2017
Composer(s): Benjamin Wallfisch
Length: 50:01
Recorded By/At: Jake Jackson at Abbey Road Studios, London.
Label: Milan Records

Additional Information:
Additional Music: Hans Zimmer
Conducted By: Gavin Greenaway
Album Produced By: Gore Verbinski & Benjamin Wallfisch
Produced By: Chris Craker
Orchestrations: David Krystal & Benjamin Wallfisch
Additional Orchestrations: Matt Dunkley
Orchestra: The Chamber Orchestra of London
Orchestra Contractor: Gareth Griffiths
Score Coordinator: Darrell Alexander
Choirs: Crouch End Festival Chorus & Trinity School Boys Choir
Orchestra Conductor: Gavin Greenaway
Choir Conductors: David Temple & Ben Parry
Featured Vocals: Mary Laey
Boy Treble Solos: Sebastian Exall
Basso Profundo: Zigmars Grasis
Violin Solos: Tom Bowes
Guitars: Owen Gurry

At some point, any follower of horror director Gore Verbinski could easily calculate his eventual return to his root genre. Having retired his involvement in the multi-billion dollar Pirates of The Caribbean franchise, and given the keys to Rob Marshall, then to Norwegian duo Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg, Verbinski was given time to focus on A CURE FOR WELLNESS. Based deeply between the tightropes of science fiction and psychological horror, the film focuses on Dane Dehaan’s protagonist only named Lockhart, who acquires responsibility for his company and is sent to retrieve the CEO from what is characterised to him as the titular “wellness center” in a distant, remote location among the Swiss Alps, secluded from society for its own malevolent purposes. A personal setback extends his reluctant stay at the center, where he befriends a patient named Hannah and the mysterious Dr. Heinreich Volmer, the spearhead for the rehabilitation facility, who each drink a cobalt fluid for sustenance, and the revelation of an urban myth prompts the exploration of the mind in terms of fragility and resistance, as Lockhart ventures deeper into the center’s myths. Receiving mixed reviews that highlighted its strong fulcrum of performances and visual landscapes, it was also chastised for its length. The intriguing premise was helmed as a dual commitment between American and German productions, and has since underwent several developmental changes in design. Initial reports stated the contemporary legend Hans Zimmer as composer for the film, however later clarifications reported that Benjamin Wallfisch would take up the mantle in his mentor’s place. In a way, it’s nice of Zimmer to allow continuing his numerous protégées of the Remote Control Productions to flourish and receive individual credit to then go on and achieve their own sense of fame and recognition, something that defines the man as a powerful yet likable figure in the field of film music.

Wallfisch has aided Zimmer on several projects, most recently the superhero blockbuster epic Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and historical drama Hidden Figures along with Pharrell Williams, garnering Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for his slowly maturing body of work. He earns a strong consideration for composer of the year with this outstanding score, crafting a seamless hybrid of brutish orchestral mayhem and electronic dispersion. Anchored by two central themes and a tertiary motif crucial to the context of the narrative, the composer maintains a consistent structure to his material, marred only by the bizarre non-chronology of his cue listings. This is a polarising practice in the majority of the RCP scores released today, a source of understandable frustration. Wallfisch states in the promotional video behind the score for the film, “This movie confronts you with some potent questions… how do we find true meaning in a world filled with consumerism and material gain, where we strive to find truth in a maze of media manipulation?” Verbinski pitched the film to the composer as “the dark spots on the X-rays of our conscience.” Wallfisch spent months composing what would eventually morph into the main ideas of the score. He describes the main theme for Hannah as “a dangerous lullaby, deceptive in its innocence, promising our characters a kind of absolution, without ever delivering it.” Hannah’s identity is a series of wordless, idiosyncratic vocals performed intriguingly by vocalist Mary Laey, first debuting in the opening cue, “Hannah and Volmer”, a series of isolated, childlike nasal humming alluring in its minor key roots. This effective dual-themed suite also introduces Volmer’s theme at 2:07, “a darkly chromatic melody that tells a story of great mystery,” that is introduced on bleak violins before doubled up on clarinet and cello. The tertiary motif is the waltz that springs within the characters’ minds, evoking the madness seen within the film, midway in “The Rite”, that serves as a loose delineation of Hannah’s theme with contrapuntal showers of flutes. This piece utilises dissonance and deep, throbbing bass layers that evoke necessary confusion of the mind.

Though the melodies implemented are already strong enough to solidify their memorability, it is their usage throughout the score that seals A Cure For Wellness as a masterwork within the composer’s career. Hannah’s theme is the dominant structural backbone of the score, almost omnipresent throughout the score’s length, with Volmer’s theme and the sickening waltz not too far behind. One such example is textural experimentation in “Nobody Ever Leaves”, with Volmer’s theme in solitary progression as a twisted statement of Hannah’s theme echoes with brief choral backing atop rumbling bass. Similar focus on texture and instrumental palette density is shown in “Lockhart’s Letter” with electric guitar slurs on string layers, synth washes and key shifts on tremolo basses and cellos, followed by low piano octaves that release maddening tension. Her theme receives further airtime in “Magnificent, Isn’t It” as it is placed on reverberated electric piano, with gentle crescendos of harmonic warmth and poignant cellos that offer some respite. Hannah’s theme is transferred to piano with romantic density briefly as fluttering strings tremolo to a halt, and in “Actually, I’m Feeling Much Better”, Volmer’s theme returns, with Gothic layers of strings and horns. Volmer’s theme takes a more malevolent turn with shimmering strings and electric distortions. Sharp hits punctuate Hannah’s theme heroically with admirable quality. The diatomic relationship between both themes is explored in “Feuerwalter”, a magnificent firecracker of a cue. Mechanic percussion strikes as darker twists of Volmer’s theme mutate on horns, into a flurry of waltz with impressive brass brutality, and muscular density. Hannah’s theme on horns as she tries to escape, after the waltz theme- consistently changing meter adds to excitement.

Wallfisch veers the focus towards Volmer in “Volmer Institut”, with tingling palettes of synth pads, reverbed vibraphones, gradual strings and soprano choir in the background, resurrecting Horner’s creativity. Shifting piano layers, and sombre strings. “Terrible Darkness” reveals gentle piano tapping in calmer tone with undulating atmosphere. Sudden crescendo flourishes in tremolo bass lead to rising glissandi and more wordless choral screams and bass shifts prove thunderously effective. “Lipstick” carries echoes of “Must There Be A Superman?” from Batman v Superman, incorporating scraping violins. Gentle piano diminishment, grating synth layers of distortion with low piano clusters give way to rising brackets of gurgled layers, muffled as the volume increases- electric wail s are employed as texture fizzles with static intensity. Volmer is given piano treatment in his first phrase’s refrain, while “Our Thoughts Exactly” shows an impressive synth opening, echoing a throwback to the 90s with precision and seamless hybrid- a solid middle finger to detractors still questioning the successful demonstration of RC methodology, zapped with organ refrains, synth bass and warm pads. The finale cue, “Volmer’s Lab” brings both themes to cathartic ends, echoing with one last statement of Hannah on solo piano. Ultimately, it is Hannah’s theme and “Feuerwalter” that steal the show in this solid psychological horror score, an exhilarating rhythm shifting cue that fluctuates meter like the layers of the mind itself. Wallfisch deserves every plaudit of praise possible for this workmanlike effort, a stunningly robust album that consolidates a promisingly healthy career as well as a strong start to the year. With The Lego Batman Movie, The Great Wall and this, RC Productions kickstart a promising line-up jubilantly. Someone at the Warner Bros. studios better start throwing his name down for the next Batman film.

Rating: *****

Track Listing:
(all music except for where noted written by Benjamin Wallfisch)

1) Hannah and Volmer (4:34)
2) Nobody Ever Leaves (1:49)
3) Bicycle (1:59)
4) The Rite (3:42)
5) Feuerwalzer (3:44)
6) Magnificent, Isn’t It (2:11)
7) Actually I’m Feeling Much Better (1:59)
8) Clearly He’s Lost His Mind (2:49)
9) Our Thoughts Exactly (1:03)
10) Volmer Institut (3:02)
11) Terrible Darkness (3:18)
12) Lipstick (4:21)
13) Waiting (0:55)
14) Zutritt Verboten (3:38)
15) There’s Nothing Wrong With You People (1:25)
16) Lockhart’s Letter (2:12)
17) Volmer’s Lab (3:38)
18) I Wanna Be Sedated (feat. Mirel Wagner)* (3:38)

Awards:

Nominations:

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