PROXY – The Newton Brothers

Original Review by Alan RogersProxy

The Newton Brothers’ score for Zack Parker’s psychological thriller Proxy is being compared with the classic scores of Pino Donaggio for Brian De Palma films (e.g., Carrie, Dressed To Kill, Passion) and, perhaps more worryingly (in terms of expectations for the score), with Bernard Herrmann’s scores for Alfred Hitchcock; particularly Psycho. It’s not particularly surprising that Andrew Grush and Taylor Stewart’s (aka The Newton Brothers) score does not live up to hype. However, I do think that the strings-heavy music for Proxy is an interesting and worthwhile score that is a solid addition to the psychological thriller/horror film music genre by shying away from soundscape ambience (that are frequently pretty unlistenable away from the film) and instead taking a limited sound palette and using it in interesting ways that are worthy of isolated and repeated listens.

Heavily pregnant Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) is savagely beaten in the street and, as a result of this assault, she loses the child she was carrying. When she is encouraged to join a parents recovery/support group she befriends Melanie (Alexa Havins) whose son has been kidnapped but whose fate is unknown. When Esther and Melanie’s paths later cross away from the support group, Esther questions Melanie’s circumstances and this begins a cascade of events that will affect the lives of both women and the people around them. The film itself has been described as being “Hitckcockian” in style. Whether the director intentionally set out to make a film that would generate such comparisons, I don’t know. And whether The Newton Brothers were given the job of creating a score that would complement the film’s style is again unclear. Grush and Stewart have used predominantly strings with the addition of piano, voices and some woodwinds to create a score that adds to the psychological/emotional elements of the film rather than delivering “jump-out-of-your-chair” scares.

The album opens with “Prelude For Proxy” which sets out the whole feel of the score. Orchestral strings deliver fragmented motifs and scraps of ideas one after the other at the expense of long thematic statements. Unsettling high string chords sit alongside descending string scales with a laborious tempo suggestive of a story that will move inexorably in an inevitable downward descent. What then follows is a series of tracks featuring waves of string chords using massed strings, or isolated solo instruments to build up a sense of unease and suspicion. As well as familiar motifs such as ascending string glissandi (e.g., “Delusions of Torture”, “Patrick Snaps”) and destabilising see-sawing string patterns (“Delusions of Torture”, “Anika’s Anarchy”) that are frequently used to instill unease, the composers create a distinctive motif that combines very high end staccato piano strikes with pizzicato strings (e.g., “Melanie’s House”, “The Department Store”, “Asphyxiophilia”) which work to ramp up tension already established in the strings. I haven’t seen Proxy and it would be interesting to see how this particularly strong motif supports the drama.

The use of piano in this staccato/pizzicato motif highlights that there are other instruments used in the score that add colour and variety. The second track, “Ester’s Lullaby”, features a strong piano line that is the nearest thing in the score that could be described as a melody. This piani melody evokes feelings of sadness, remembrance as well as melancholy rather than the feelings of safety that one would possibly normally associate with a lullaby. “Ester’s Lullaby” also features what sounds like a young children’s voices as well as a solo female voice that add an eerie, ethereal tone to the sadness. Even when the strings play seemingly warmer passages instead of the harsh, staccato motifs (e.g., “Missing Someone”, Falling In Love”, “Group Counceling”) there’s always an over-arching sense of sadness and loss. The strings, piano and vocals, plus the occasional addition of woodwinds (“Melanie’s Depression”) and subtle electronics (e.g., “Melanie’s Depression”, “Patrick Snaps”) all mingle and intertwine over the course of the score with little variation in tempo. The only real injection of any kind of “pace” is in “Anika’s Anarchy”. A wooshing, fluid-like ostinato – not unlike the sound of blood pulsating through the human heart – adds urgency and the layering of pizzicato strings and swirling string figures add to the sense of motion created by the “heartbeat” ostinato. As the track advances there’s an increasing aggressive quality to the strings but, no sooner has that aggression been established, it ebbs away, dissipating to nothing. The album closes with a good montage of many of the ideas and motifs heard in the score.

The Newton Brothers score for Proxy is one that delivers in terms of setting up a feel that complements the psychological nature of the film. I think that it can be difficult for a composer to maintain the interest of the listener when their musical palette is limited but by taking several musical ideas and having them played by the string section as a whole or via solo instruments and creatively adding additional colours such as piano and voices the score does manage to remain interesting over the course of its 40+ minutes running time. Some may feel that the limited musical palette may be a barrier to enjoying Proxy but I think that is good to hear composers come up with a musical world in which they want to tell the story and use inventive means to achieve all that is asked of the music in terms of supporting the story. The recording of the score is worth mentioning. The close-miking of the strings adds a level of depth to the score and this certainly adds to the enjoyment (though at one point – during “Delusions of Torture” – there’s a brief but definite hint of a human voice in the mix that really shouldn’t be there!) I’ve heard a couple of scores from The Newton Brothers (High School and Oculus) that haven’t really appealed but their score for Proxy is one that definitely makes me eager to hear more from them in the future.

Proxy has been released by Screamworks Records as a digital album and can be purchased from the usual digital outlets. Audio clips can be heard HERE.

Rating: ***

  1. Prelude For Proxy (2:41)
  2. Ester’s Lullaby (1:32)
  3. Melanie’s House (2:47)
  4. Missing Someone (1:37)
  5. Murder (1:29)
  6. Falling In Love (1:15)
  7. The Department Store (2:35)
  8. Melanie’s Depression (1:43)
  9. Delusions of Torture (3:40)
  10. Group Counceling (1:42)
  11. Patrick Snaps (2:10)
  12. Hymn For Peyton (2:20)
  13. Asphyxiophilia (2:32)
  14. The Playground (1:50)
  15. Anika’s Anarchy (2:38)
  16. Stop Lying (2:49)
  17. End Titles (4:38)

Running Time: 40:04

Screamworks Records SWR14007 (2014)

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