Original Review by Alan Rogers (First uploaded at maintitles.net)
The end of 2010 saw the release of a low-budget UK movie entitled Cuckoo that, according to some mainstream movie magazines, wasn’t a particularly dramatic drama. Polly (a medical research student played by Laura Fraser) may or may not be hearing voices in her flat and her grasp of reality may be slipping. On top of this, her supervisor/mentor Professor Greengrass (Richard E. Grant) appears to be a bit too obsessed with her. Although praised in some quarters for having strong performances from the lead actors, the film didn’t make much of an impression generally. Which is unfortunate because newcomer composer Andrew Hewitt has composed a top-notch score that has a chance to flourish away from the film after being released by MovieScore Media.
To date, Hewitt has three feature films to his credit, the most recent of which Submarine (also released by MovieScore Media) has received more critical acclaim than Cuckoo. Hewitt’s resumé lists an emphasis in voice and choir in his training (and an interesting piece of trivia is that the composer sang in scores such as the more recent Star Wars films, the Lord of The Rings trilogy, Harry Potter and Pirates of The Caribbean) but his score for Cuckoo is written predominantly for strings. This emphasis instantly raises comparisons with Bernard Herrmann’s strings-only score for Psycho although Hewitt explains on the film’s DVD commentary that Howard Shore’s Silence of The Lambs also had a significant influence.
“Cuckoo – Part 1” sets the composer’s stall out from the start, highlighting a two-note motif played in the strings that appears time and time again throughout the score; a motif based on a cuckoo’s call. This motif is manipulated in a variety of ways – in this first track alone the motif descends down the musical scale before being raised to a high register, screeching the motif out in a musical scream. The motif is slowed down in tracks such as “Scarlett Letter”, played pizzicato at such a low level that you wonder whether you are hearing it or not (“Her Master’s Voice”) and played against a recurring string ostinato in cues such as “Cuckoo – Part 2” and “Tangible Truth”. Over the course of the 30-minute score there’s not much variety in terms of motifs; the same motifs are repeated over and over again. Rather, the variety comes from how the two-note motif is changed and manipulated, or how the ostinato patterns are set out. Doing this, Hewitt delivers effective atmospheric as well as action-oriented music. To my mind, it’s how Hewitt modifies these musical tools with such variety that makes the score “Herrmann-esque” just as much as the use of a strings-only ensemble.
A side-effect of the constant use of the two-note motif is that by the time I got to the latter half of the score I was beginning to imprint the motif onto the music. The appropriately named “You Mean, Hearing Things” starts off with a passage of drawn out notes that in any other score would be probably heard as just a meandering string line. But, having been preconditioned by what I had already heard I was overlaying in my mind the “cu-ckoo” motif, dividing the passage into two-note chunks. Even a monotonous, repeating tone played on piano later in the same cue was sounding to me like a mechanical cuckoo’s call! If the composer’s intent was to have the listener begin to hear things in the music and parallel the possible experiences of Polly in the film then he’s damn clever!! “Polly’s Choice” is also worthy of a mention as this example of an ostinato-driven cue actually ends with a musical resolution: Polly has made her choice!
Some people may find Hewitt’s score for Cuckoo too repetitive for their liking. But I love it. A strings-only score (with an emphasis on cello), ostinato-driven tracks and taking brief motifs/ideas and constantly changing and adapting them ticks all the right boxes for a great listening experience. This is one of MovieScore Media’s brightest hidden stars and I recommend you take a listen to this inventive score.
- Cuckoo – Part 1 (1:43)
- Cuckoo – Part 2 (2:10)
- Scarlet Letter (1:33)
- Alone and I (1:03)
- I Waited For You (1:09)
- Her Master’s Voice (1:04)
- Blood Thicker Than Water (1:54)
- Through A Glass Darkly (1:09)
- Crossing The Line (0:58)
- Dripping Footsteps (2:14)
- Upstairs (1:35)
- You Mean, Hearing Things (3:16)
- Tangible Truth (1:58)
- I Spy (2:38)
- Lone Wolf (2:00)
- Polly’s Choice (3:01)
- End Credits (1:52)
Running Time: 31:16
MovieScore Media MMS10026 (2010)