The haunting yet subtle soundtrack to The Strangers shapes each scene and adds a dark ominous mood to the film. In every significant scene, whether it contains action or not, there is a presence of music to help communicate the messages. Tomandandy composes the score. This duo includes Tom Hajdu and Andy Milburn. These men along with Bratislava Symphony Orchestra compile an eerie and hollow feeling throughout this horror movie. This orchestration along with big names like Merle Haggard make a unique sounding film. I believe the soundtrack creates an argument. The argument being that a horror film shouldn’t rely on quick shocks of noise but rather a slow and steady rise of terror. The soundtrack itself should compliment the horror, not cause the fear itself. The soundtrack is very versatile. There are times of high volume or tone and times of low volume or tone. Nevertheless, the music never outshines the action. To summarize these main ideas I will discuss the roles of three major songs on this soundtrack. I will also comment on how the soundtrack incorporates aspects of ethos, pathos, and logos.
“When merged with lyrics, music acquires a more concrete content because words, of course, have specific references. Both words and music convey meanings, but each in a different manner” (Giannetti, 213). The song 20 minutes into the film makes a big impact and relates directly with this quote from Understanding Movies. Joanna Newsom’s “Sprout and the Bean” comes in right after one of our main characters, James, leaves the home. While his girlfriend Kristen is left in the remote country house by herself she plays Newsom’s song on an old record player. Then comes a mysterious knocking on the door at 4am in the morning. As the knocks on the door continue the music increases in volume and we hear the lyrics “should we go outside?” This connection of lyrics and action within the film heightens the viewer’s emotions and therefor incorporates pathos. We can even see a side of credibility to the soundtrack in the fact that it was organized well enough to have the lyrics match up with the action in the film. This is an aspect of ethos. Again, the action and the music work together instead of outshine one or the other. Another quote from Understanding Movies comes to mind in this scene, “Music can also provide ironic contrasts” (Giannetti, 216). In this scene we have a chilling suspense being countered with an almost childish and happy sounding song in the background. To me this is even creepier because one could infer that these masked strangers get great pleasure and enjoyment from their actions.
The next song influential song is “My First Lover” by Gillian Welch. Personally, this is my favorite part of the soundtrack. This song is actually a loop of a scratch on the CD. This creepy distorted song comes in 29 minutes into the movie. Again, Kristen is still alone. Having the lone female in the movie being trapped by herself plays to the viewers’ pathos. The foreign sound creates an extremely uncomfortable mood; “There are many instances where sound is the most economical and precise way of conveying information in film” (Giannetti, 235).
The last song I will discuss on the soundtrack is performed by an all time great, Merle Haggard. This is the first time I see logos used in the soundtrack. One would think a big named star like Haggard would only be in a respectable movie. The strangers physically enter the home and play this song, while the couple hides in a closet desperately holding a shotgun. The lyrics themselves speak of “a lonesome whistle blowing.” In this distant and remote country home, James and Kristen are exactly that.
I believe the soundtrack did a fine job shaping the essence of the scenes and creating a dark ominous mood of the film. I do believe the soundtrack got weaker towards the end of the movie and for that reason I give this horror film soundtrack a 4 out of 5 rating.
Joanna Newsom – The Sprout And the Bean
Gillian Welch – My First Lover (skip to 3:03)
Merle Haggard – Mama Tried