Directed by Paolo Sedazzari, The Toybox is a British horror film from 2005 that, by all accounts starts off promising but then gets bogged down in too many trivial elements and back stories that defuses any sense of peril. The story begins with two young children, their heads full of local myths and legends. As they grow older the brother becomes emotionally dependant upon his sister. So much so that when the sister returns some years later to the family home with a new boyfriend in tow, the brother feels completely betrayed. At about the same time a shadowy figure with a red-eyed dog appears at the house. Is it a mythical journeyman who murders weary travellers or a threat from somewhere closer to home? Composer Miguel d’Oliveira (known for his TV documentary scores for titles such as The Battle of Britain (2010) and The Air Hospital (2011)) composes a score that is predominantly modernistic in style, focusing on establishing atmosphere rather than providing melody.
“I Still Have Nightmares” starts off the score with an almost sickening descending motif from what sounds like a harmonica played on very low notes. It is clear already that this is not going to be a happy listen! A series of elements are introduced one by one, each one coming to the fore for a moment and then fading into the background. Brass and string dissonances, solo female voice, low register electronic effects, percussive “stingers” build an unsettling atmosphere that comes to a shattering conclusion with a cacophony of percussion. What then follows are a series of cues that sustain this unsettling feeling, mixing various orchestral effects (screeching strings, sickening brass, low woodwinds, music-box celesta effects, etc) and also various uses of the human voice. It’s the use of the human voice that, as well as the innovative and interesting use of a plethora of instruments, that lingers in the memory once the album has ended. The haunting solo female voice in cues such as “I Still Have Nightmares”, “On My Own” and “Sister-In-A-Box” and the guttural male voices (“The Legend of Jake”, “Sister-In-A-Box” and “Your Turn Sister”) all provide colour that’s effectively used to add to the overall unsettling feel. d’Oliveira also uses whistling quite prominently in the score building it from a brief motif in cues such as “The Toybox” and “Norfolk Stories” to becoming increasingly pronounced and becoming almost melodic by “Hooking Up Mum With Dad”.
The score does have some melody in it that becomes more prominent as the score progresses. There’s an off-kilter music box style melody (“The Toybox”, “My Dear Family”), but a piano melody fights its way to the surface of the unsettling soundscape in “Conrad Meats The Hook” – when for a brief moment the boyfriend gets one over on the jealous brother. But then (almost in a statement of the success of evil over good?) a piano melody in the final track, “Epilogue”, makes a final reappearance but then mutates into a rendition of the children’s nursery rhyme “See Saw Margery Daw”.
Reading that The Toybox is a score that is full of atmosphere and dissonance rather than melody may put people off hunting this score down. But there is something about d’Oliveria’s score that makes it very listenable. The composer is very inventive with the tools that he uses and it is clear that he has put a lot of thought into composing the soundscape and had a clear vision for the role of every element in the score. The score almost didn’t see the light of day. During the final stages of the film’s production the computer on which the soundtrack was being mastered was stolen and d’Oliveira’s music that is heard in the original film is mostly a selection of music sketches gathered together from available tapes. Only when the computer was retrieved a couple of years later was it decided to release the score so that the music as planned for the film could be heard. Miguel d’Oliveira’s score is a predominantly non-melodic score that shows that a horror score such as this can be listenable away from the images and is definitely worth hunting down down. It is available at the usual digital download online stores and as a CD from stores such as www.cdbaby.com.
Audio samples can be found HERE and then click on arrow next to running time for samples of entire album or individual tracks.
- I Still Have Nightmares (2:21)
- The Toybox (1:35)
- Norfolk Stories (1:17)
- The Legend of Jake (1:36)
- You Can’t Leave Me (1:54)
- On My Own (1:15)
- Hooking Up Mum With Dad (2:38)
- Conrad Meats The Hook (3:14)
- Sister-In-A-Box (2:43)
- Ready To See Sense (2:13)
- Doorbell Zombie (1:37)
- Your Turn Sister (2:34)
- My Dear Family (2:29)
- Epilogue (1:51)
Running Time: 29:23
BrandNew Film (2007)