Rarely has music for a horror film been so emotive or touching than Johan Söderqvist’s score for Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In. Of course, Let The Right One In is no ordinary horror film. Unravelling like a darkly beautiful and twisted fairytale it charts the burgeoning relationship between a lonely, anxious little boy and a little girl who turns out to be an ancient vampire in search of a new guardian. Equal parts touching and terrifying the story plays out against the backdrop of a snow-covered council estate in Sweden and possesses a suitably chilly atmosphere, warmed by the tentative romance at the heart of the story and the occasional stark dash of blood strewn on snow…
Paramount to sustaining its bewitching tone is Johan Söderqvist’s lush and frostily beautiful score. Born in 1966 in Täby, Sweden, Söderqvist attended the Royal College of Music in Stockholm before playing in several jazz and folk bands. Eventually the musician turned his attention to writing music for film and TV. Before scoring Let The Right One In he was perhaps best known for composing the scores for films by acclaimed Danish director Susanne Bier, including Brothers, After the Wedding and Things We Lost In The Fire.
Amidst the icy atmospherics of his score for Let The Right One In swirl bittersweet and melancholy themes – performed by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra – that highlight the blood-warm, romantically charged heart of the story. Söderqvist deftly moves from chilling the spine one moment to thawing it out again with heart-aching and rich melodies full of light and hope; though no less tinged by a strange sadness. Many tracks unfurl as echoic and hazy soundscapes in which atmospheric use is made of electric guitar played with a bow and a bass waterphone*; the glassy eeriness of which resonates throughout proceedings. As mentioned, the composer grounds the music in the more emotional aspects of the story, not the horror; though when those darker moments come, they are no less effective due to their subdued, sinisterly suggestive nature as evidenced on Virginia Is Bitten and Virginia Wakes Up. Tracks such as Virginia In Flames and Lacke Dies also tease up the hairs on your neck with creepy bass waterphone samples, clattering strings and more typical horror-movie-soundtrack arrangements. Elsewhere the likes of Eli and Oskar – with its underlying cautiousness that bleeds into full-bloomed and heartrending string arrangements – and The Arrival – with its quivering woodwind, tentative piano, harp and ominous rumblings – slide an icy finger down the spine.
Eli’s Theme, Then We Are Together and Oscar Strikes Back are full blown, richly textured orchestral pieces the motifs of which are more pared down on the likes of The Father – an almost folky lament plucked on guitar, and Going Home, which begins with the same guitar motif before splintering into something much chillier and moodier. Hiding The Body, The Slaughter and Spotting A Victim bring us back into icy horror territory, with faint and echoic bass waterphone samples and ominous strings that threaten to build to a dark crescendo but merely tease, creating stifling suspense. Death of Håkan utilises an altered version of the piano motifs from Oskar in Love and Then We Are Together, underpinning the similarities between the two male characters and their relationships with Eli.
Rarely has a soundtrack evoked such connotations of coldness, flurrying snow and glistening ice than this delicate and frost-dewed tapestry of a score. My favourite track is perhaps Oskar In Love – a soft piano driven piece with shards of the glacial bass waterphone glinting through with a hint of something chillier, caressed by solemn strings evoking tender longingness. Enjoy.
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*A waterphone is an atonal acoustic instrument made up of a stainless steel bowl with a cylindrical neck and bronze rods of different lengths and diameters situated around the bowl. The rods are played with a bow, or the bowl can be filled with water and a beater used on it to create an ethereal resonating sound akin to someone running their finger around the rim of a glass of water. Haunting stuff!