THE TRENCH – Dexter Britain

Original Review by Alan RogersThe Trench

The Trench is a short film made in 2014 by a group of final year students studying Film Production at the University of York’s Department of Theatre, Film and TV. The film, an adaptation of a theatre production based very loosely upon the story of William Hackett, the only Tunneller in the First World War to win the Victoria Cross. In the Alex Campbell-directed fantasy film, Herbert digs tunnels under no-man’s land to lay explosive charges. When an enemy mine collapses the tunnel he is separated from his fellow tunneller and sets off on a journey (both physical and emotional) where the lines between reality and fantasy blur. He’s accompanied by The Guide, a disfigured, unearthly creature who sets him three challenges where success or failure with decide his fate. The score is by Dexter Britain, a young British composer who has written music for several media including film and television. The Trench’s music seems to focus on creating a “blank canvas” atmosphere for the film which acts to support the drama rather than mimicking the action and draws the listener into the world created by the film-makers. Over this basic form, the composer then adds subtle elements to accentuate key scenes within the movie. This choice of direction for the music means that, for those not having seen the film, there is the opportunity to build up their own interpretation of the music (based on a knowledge of the film’s storyline), transforming Britain’s album into a sort of “symphonic poem”.

The score’s populated with lots of “washes” of strings and synth tones that mix with one another to produce what is ultimately quite a sad environment. It all reminds me somewhat of the Japanese horror scores of Kenji Kawai, where the composer highlights the sadness that underlies much of this film genre. Echoing piano and ethereal voices, as well as solo strings add specific elements to the score, highlighting the specific aspects of the story. “The News” and “The Grief” both establish the feel of the score early on, introducing many of the musical devices used by Britain. The appearance of a specific string motif in “The News” (an insistent “scratchy” violin solo) seems to be a particularly important motif that recurs throughout the score. Appearing again in the six-minute “The Guide” (alongside ominous synths), the composer fashions a link between the devastating events that befall Bert (“The Grief”) and the presence of the fantastical creature (“The Guide”). The choice of solo violin may be a subtle reference to Mephistopheles (and the folklore associated with it).

The aforementioned “The Guide” and a latter track, “The Way Out”, make up a significant portion of the short score (almost 50%) and appear to be key moments in the score (and film). In the latter cue, we hear the protagonist’s journey unfold as the climax is reached between Bert and the creature. The demon-like creature’s presence is echoed in the “scratchy” violin solo in the opening bars of the cue and then is ever-present as the music progresses. This violin plus the string ensemble washes increase in intensity echoing perhaps Bert’s determination to prevail in the tasks he has been set by the creature. A martial snare drum then joins the cue alongside bomb-like percussion in a mirroring of the battle between good and evil (and between reality and fantasy). Resolution is seemingly found as wordless vocals become prominent over a tolling piano and the “scratchy” violin solo dies away. “The Way Out” illustrates the composer’s talent at conveying the story of the Tunneller’s battle with the creature. He then ends the score with “The Reunion”, a cue where now the string washes and a piano melody have a lightness to them that suggests that there has, indeed, been a resolution to Bert’s story and he is at last at peace with himself.

It’s always difficult to assess a score without having seen the film: a lot of what’s said about the music is based upon the reviewer’s assumptions regarding how the music is used in the movie itself. With Britain’s score for The Trench, I think he’s managed to bring all the various elements he has used together to provide a story within the music itself. Subtle use of instruments – e.g., the violin solo – suggest themselves to the listener and a storyline forms in the mind. In this sense, the composer’s score is a strong one. Others may feel that the reliance on the use of washes of strings for a large part of the score may be off-putting but the composer would have been limited in what he could do because of the claustrophobic nature of the story and anyway, as a listening experience, I think that it does work. The Trench is an interesting listen that’s certainly worth hearing as a separate listening experience and I hope that it sparks other listeners’ imagination as much as it did my own. Dexter Britain’s score for The Trench can be listened to and downloaded for free at the composer’s Bandcamp page.

Rating: ***

  1. The Trench (0:55)
  2. The News (2:10)
  3. The Grief (3:33)
  4. The Guide (6:00)
  5. The Light (1:55)
  6. The Struggle (2:22)
  7. The Way Out (8:43)
  8. The Reunion (2:02)
  9. The End (1:45)

Running Time: 29:29 (2014)


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