By JORDAN VON NETZER
What if one day you learned that as an infant you had been abandoned in a cemetery, and when found, you were wrapped in a blanket covered with satanic symbols? Of course there would be questions you would want answers to. This is the premise of Alex Herron’s new film, Leave, which is now streaming on Shudder. Leave’s official synopsis reads: An abandoned infant is found in a cemetery in the United States. The child is wrapped in a blanket with satanic symbols. A Wolf’s Cross pendant hangs around her neck. 20 years later: Hunter is obsessed with finding out why she was abandoned and who her biological parents are. A genetic test, the blanket and the Wolf’s Cross lead her to Norway. Hunter is closing in on the terrifying truth, but visions of a dark figure warn her: LEAVE!
There are certain elements that one can expect to coincide with a memorable horror film, a unique score to accompany all the twist, turns and jumps being one of them. Leave spares no expense in this department, thanks to composer Jamie Christopherson. Jamie used everything from intimate strings to synths to match the slow burn feel of the film. He goes into this and much more detail in the below interview.
How did you become involved with Leave?
I came on board the film LEAVE when my producer friend Dave Spilde called me up from Norway to possibly come on board the project. They wanted to hear my thoughts and musical ideas on a few key scenes in the film that they had not been able to fully dial in musically yet. So after I showed them what I wanted to do, they loved the direction, and hired me to score the full film.
How would you describe the sound of the score?
The score for LEAVE is largely traditional for a horror score. There is a big family drama at the heart of the story, with emotional scenes and character studies. So while there are modern horror music techniques with warped synthesizers and effects, the base of the score is intimate strings and piano bases. I also incorporated a few key live Norwegian musicians into the score, specifically my friend Helena on hardanger fiddle and a wonderful cellist. Lastly, there is a heavy metal component incorporated into the score, but not in an upfront way. I sampled, warped and reversed elements from a metal album by Demonaz for some of the demonic, satanic occult sounds.
When you first begin work on a project like this, what is one of the first things you do?
The first thing I do on any project really is to just watch it on my own several times, preferably without temp music, and see what my gut instinct says. Then I start having conversations with the director/producer and see where they are coming from, and see if our ideas on project are similar or not. From there, the creative decision making starts to happen, and I do like to experiment a lot on projects for the beginning phases. Once we have a working music vocabulary that we know works for the film, the writing starts to happen a lot quicker.
Did you go back and watch any specific horror films to get inspiration for your Leave score?
The schedule was very condensed for this project, so I didn’t have much time or desire to watch or listen to any other horror films for inspiration while scoring LEAVE. I wanted to trust my instincts as much as possible on this one.
Can you talk about your collaboration with Alex Herron. Were you familiar with his work before Leave?
This was my first collaboration with Alex Herron, the director. As he was in Norway working on the post for the film, we met and worked over Zoom and phone calls. He was a real pleasure to work with and was encouraging me to experiment and concentrate on characters in the film. We had a very condensed schedule on this film, and thankfully there were only a handful of cues that I had to re-write for him. All of them were the right decisions, and the film score came out great because of that I think. I didn’t get to meet Alex face to face until the premiere of the film in Oslo, Norway, which I was able to attend.
Was director Alex Herron pretty specific on how he wanted the score to sound or were you able to experiment more?
Alex was specific in that he wanted me to experiment on this film and come up with some fresh sounds! Hahaha I’m joking a little, but he did encourage me to try out things and have fun with it. That said, the film really lended itself to a more traditional acoustic scoring approach as a base, but with some modern synth and effects supplementing.
Leave is a Norwegian horror movie. Are there any differences between a Norwegian horror film and an American horror film?
I think every film (including horror and suspense) is a world unto itself. I think since this film is supposed to cross the boundaries between the US & Norway, it is a bit of a hybrid film with one foot in each country’s aesthetics. That said, the fact that this film takes place mostly in Norway, I definitely wanted to interject some traditional Norwegian sounds. Those came mostly from the use of Hardanger fiddle and hiring Norwegian musicians on the score. The feel of LEAVE is a bit like a “slow burn” though, where a simmering uneasy tension is ramping up through the film.
Can you tell us something about the score, that we might not know?
One fun fact is that I co-wrote several tracks for the film with heavy metal musician Harald Nævdal (aka Demonaz), as well as arranged his Main Title music. He served as the music supervisor on the film as well, and in addition to being from a heavy metal background, has a strong appreciation for soundtracks. We hit it off very well, and
Are you personally a horror fan? If so, what titles have left a lasting impression on you?
I am definitely a fan of horror films, as they offer up so much variety and experimentation in style. Really, anything goes with story, visuals and music. You get to experiment with music and sound in ways that other genres might not typically allow. Some of my favorite horror films are classics such as “The Shining” and “Poltergeist”. I also recently saw “M3GAN” from Blumhouse and loved the fresh and playful style that it took on.
You can learn more about Jamie Christopherson at http://www.jamiechristopherson.com/.
LEAVE is available now to stream on Shudder.