There’s something about images of snowy landscapes and man’s struggle to survive in these environments that appeals. And out of the myriad of soundtrack releases that happen nowadays the artwork for Alain Mayrand’s score for Numb was bound to be an immediate draw. And, having been impressed with Mayrand’s previous score, Comforting Skin, I was keen to hear this new effort. Director Jason R. Goode’s debut feature film, Numb, stars Jamie Bamber and Stefanie von Pfetten as Will and Dawn, a couple experiencing dire financial circumstances. The acquisition of information appearing to offer them a resolution to all their money problems seems too good to be true. Set in the wilderness of a harsh British Columbia winter, the couple set out in search of their “pot of gold” despite being ill-equipped for the quest. Goode’s character-driven thriller charts how greed clouds their better judgement, leading them into severe personal danger at the hands of the hostile environment. Having picked up a couple of hitchhikers on the way doesn’t help matters.
The movie relies heavily on the desolate nature of cold British Columbian landscapes and by all accounts Director of Photography Jan Kiesser makes maximum use of the film’s locations to portray the film’s isolation and desolation. In interviews, Goode is keen to acknowledge the importance of music in establishing and furthering key aspects of the film, including the desolation with which the characters find themselves. Rising to the challenge set by the director, Canadian-born Alain Mayrand delivers an effective score that conveys the film’s bleak outlook whilst touching on how the challenging circumstances of the situation have significant personal consequences for the film’s protagonists.
Mayrand relies on the prominent use of electronic tones and subtle percussion to conjure the feeling of isolation in the score. An “ebb-and-flow” quality to these elements creates a distinctly uneasy feeling, washing over the musical soundscape. Over this pervasive base, instruments such as solo strings and piano tease out subtle angles in the music, emphasising the emotions – and perhaps even the motives – of the film’s characters. Together, it all makes for the sort of enveloping score that appeals to my sensibilities. The score opens with the aforementioned electronics and percussion (“Main Title”). We quickly hear a statement of recurring theme; a haunting yet beautiful theme heard on solo strings. This is not a particularly happy theme. Linking back to what was mentioned earlier, the theme has a quality that goes to the wilderness of the film’s location, but it also plays somewhat like a lament to what’s about to unfold for the characters over the film’s ninety minutes running time. It’s a theme that seems to appear at important character-centred points within the film, and major statements of the theme (on solo strings) in tracks such as “The Fracturing” and the climactic “The Hunt / Giving Up” add emotional depth to the score. The appearance of this theme on piano in the latter half of “Entering The Forest / Little White Lies” gives the theme a softer, seemingly more personal sound and “Convincing Will”, with its statement of the theme on what sounds like a harp, is perhaps when this theme is heard at its most vulnerable. Snippets of the theme heard throughout the score establishes it as the major element of the score.
The aforementioned “Entering The Forest / Little While Lies” features a secondary theme (heard on piano) that could arguably be the happiest* portion of the score. (*When I say ‘happiest’, perhaps I should say ‘least bleak’.) There’s an optimism contained within the writing here that suggests the potential of Will and Dawn’s life together, but it’s only a brief glimpse of a happy (though hypothetical) future. This secondary theme is one of several aspects of the score that adds to its variety. Mayrand uses tremolo strings on a number of occasions to inject an element of immediate drama and/or peril (“No Way Down”, “The Fracturing”) and the use of rhythmic string staccato and percussive hits in the latter half of the score – as the inevitable destructive consequences of the characters’ greed comes to the fore – ramps up the tension significantly and to great effect (e.g., “Digging For Gold”, “The Hunt / Giving Up”). This particularly effective in the 7-minute climactic track, “The Hunt / Giving Up”. After a brief opening of electronics and string washes, powerful percussive rhythms drives the film to its conclusion and Mayrand’s use of harsh piano chords as elements of the percussive hits adds to the tension. In addition, the use of dissonant strings (reminiscent of Howard Shore’s use of strings in films such as Silence of the Lambs) hints at the psychological disintegration of the characters as their situation comes to a head. When these are all mixed with dissonant string crescendos, there’s an unsavoury conclusion reached. There is no happy resolution. String washes and a sad major statement of the opening theme finishes things on a downward trajectory. “It’s Still Out There” is a surprisingly light ending to the score. An almost jaunty harp motif, perhaps hinting at the “pot of gold” being ‘still out there’ and awaiting the next unsuspecting victims to be caught in its sphere of influence, brings the album to a close.
Running to just under twenty-five minutes in length, Numb’s running time is just about right. Mayrand’s key elements are all presented well and none of them outstay their welcome. It can be difficult for scores that rely heavily on music soundscapes as a key element of the whole to be good listens away from their films, but I think that Mayrand’s themes and the use of interesting electronic textures and percussive elements keeps the interest levels high (I particularly like the composer’s use of what sounds like metallic bowls as a delicate percussive element). These textures, together with the seemingly simple thematic elements, combine to achieve a significant amount: highlighting the desolate nature of the British Columbia landscapes and bringing the emotional and psychological aspects of the film’s characters and how they interact with one another into sharp focus. Mayrand’s a very talented composer who’s able to convey the emotional aspects of a story extremely well. Numb is very much a score that deserves the time of those interested in listening to film music that’s not “mainstream” and I look forward to hearing more from Alain Mayrand in the future.
- Numb Main Title (1:09)
- On The Road (1:09)
- Entering The Forest / Little White Lies (2:00)
- No Way Down (1:28)
- Convincing Will (1:42)
- Setting Out (1:07)
- Moving On (1:11)
- Digging For Gold (3:52)
- The Fracturing (2:33)
- The Hunt / Giving Up (7:39)
- It’s Still Out There (0:48)
Running Time: 24:43
Alain Mayrand (2016)