|UNDERWATER/ Marco Beltrami & Brandon Roberts/Walt Disney - digitalMarco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts jointly composed and conducted the music for UNDERWATER, the new horror film from director William Eubank (SIGNAL), in which a crew of aquatic researchers must get to safety after an earthquake devastates their submerged laboratory and releases mythic, monstrous sea predators from the ocean floor. Beltrami and Roberts have collaborated on numerous projects since 2013, including LOGAN, THE WOLVERINE, WARM BODIES, WORLD WAR Z, and National Geographic’s Oscar-winning documentary, FREE SOLO, which earned the composers with an Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Documentary Series or Special.
“The fun challenge on this score was to balance the hybrid nature of the musical elements so they could convincingly exist in an electronic world,” the composers said. “Will [Eubank] is very influenced by electronic music and offered incredible encouragement to explore new ways of processing traditional orchestral elements to create this musical soundscape. Female vocals played a big part in this score, and we experimented with an endless array of unorthodox techniques to evoke the epic, tense and at times, very emotional elements of the film.”
Right from the start (“The Bends”), the score evokes a great sensation of claustrophobic confined space with wailing instruments and haunting voices, emanating an organic harmonic sonority along with sound clusters and sinewy strands of tonality shifting against one another. The score avoids atonal sound design in favor of fibrous instrumental, electronic, and vocal tone and texture patterns. “Voyage to the Bottom of the C” powerfully suggests the feeling of submergence as the crew descends toward the underwater lab. A two-note, drifting cadence becomes “Norah’s Theme” for Kristen Stewart’s character, which both resonates with the dark colorations of the tonality and reflects her captivity within the submerged facility; it will recur in “Norah’s Choice” in a much more redemptive, rising fashion.
The first sign of danger, when the underwater building has “Sprung a Leak,” prompts a suffocating pattern of near-percussive sound clusters that serves to elevate one’s heartbeat, and has an even more potent effect later in the film when the threat of the undersea creatures takes hold. These patterns reflect the swaying of the surf far above, reinforce the sensation of being far underwater, and maintain a potent growing sense of quiet unease that is far more worrisome than adopting slamming percussives and layered musical sound design. Those effects, however, do have their place for more potent scary moments, as in “What Was That,” where the characters are spooked by an unknown entity, or the screaming pulses and descending blocks of low sound terrorizes the cast in “Eat Me.” In the case of “Behemouth,” a musical construction rises up suddenly with a grunting, rising sound pattern. “Bikini Run,” on the other hand, proffers a near-heroic resonance as the crew makes a break for freedom, only to meet with the sonic blasts and dizzying swirls of approaching panic that curtail any sense of escape until the softer harbinger of “Rapid Ascent” seems to suggest a means of escape. “Seems to” being the operative phrase: when underwater it’s not over till it’s over, and “Under the C” both forms a motivic bookend with “Voyage to the Bottom…” as the story is resolved, but not without a cost.
UNDERWATER is a fine horror score with lots of sonic potency while largely avoiding jarring jump scares, allowing the breadth of its harmonic texture and phrasing to create an ongoing apprehension which is as delightful as it is haunting.