Composed by Fernando Velázquez
January 14, 2013
Reviewing scores for horror films proves to be a challenge mainly because the genre of music tends to be inherently difficult to assess as one would any other type of score. Much of this has to do with the fact that horror music is incidental in a more sensationalized manner, often responding, in exaggerated ways, to the events that transpire on screen. However, there are certain composers who approach the genre and provide the listener with a bit more depth to go off of, and Fernando Velázquez is that type of composer.
With Mama, Velázquez harkens back to his evocative work on The Orphanage and uses wavering and discordant tones, all typical to the horror music genre, with poise, imbuing the score with refreshingly dramatic weight. Yet he never loses sight of the fact that he’s creating music for terrorizing circumstances. He opens the score with “The Car and the Radio”, a foreboding piece that begins with ominous celli that are then overlaid by harsh, atonal strings. Soon thereafter a childlike chime sound before a charging and propulsive string ostinato carries on until the end of the piece.
“The Encounter and Main Title” is undoubtedly the Mama’s best track, and unfortunately it comes so early in the score. The piece starts with strings that ascend and descend like a musical line from Bernard Herrmann. These strings crescendo and then calm into a waltz-like trance that is later accompanied by a xylophone and children’s choir. It’s important to note that these young voices don’t serve to perpetuate the clichéd contrast of innocence and fear. There’s actually an genuine beauty at play here, and the track only increases in depth as the theme grows more dense creating a mysterious forest of sound that’s at once magical and creepy. This is exceptional work and a testament to the level of sophistication Velázquez brings to the horror genre.
Velázquez manages to embrace the trappings that come along with the horror genre while establishing a constant tension between the dark and the light, keeping things interesting from a musical standpoint. “Helvetia” contrasts warm strings and a somber, ambling piano theme with rattling percussion and minimal horn bursts that add to the track’s eclectic and sinister musical textures. “Observation Room” utilizes a snakelike oboe and surprisingly sweet and sweeping orchestrations to add a touch of color to the otherwise dour proceedings.
These moments of pulchritude, however, are few and far between, as an overwhelming sense of dread pervades the majority of the score. “Victoria and Mama” and “You Guys Talk A Lot!” both build tension with violently repetitive brass and piano stabs respectively. “Mama Fight” is also a marked example of musical cacophony. While Velázquez’s work here is undoubtedly effective, it ultimately isn’t as compelling a listen independent from the film’s imagery, as is the case with most horror scores.
Having said that, “Scare and Lucas Wake Up” is a wild flurry of well-paced horror writing containing divergent orchestral decisions that make for a remarkable listening experience. “Last Reel”, the score’s closing track, follows suit and smartly uses its thirteen-minute runtime to take the listener on a tortuous emotional excursion. Velázquez strikes a unique balance here employing the score’s best moments of both tragedy and grace resulting in a disarmingly cathartic end to this troubled fable.
While Mama isn’t as rich a score as Velázquez’s previous work on The Orphanage or last year’s The Impossible there’s still a great deal of the man’s classically stirring sensibilities to satiate any fan of his or the horror genre. Velázquez’s unique ability to consistently create dignified film music regardless of genre remains formidable and this writer will certainly anticipate any future projects the composer has in store.