×

How Scores to ‘Three Billboards,’ ‘Get Out’ and ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ Tune Up Intensity

A newcomer and two past Oscar nominees scored 2017’s crop of suspense dramas. Each tells a story — musical and otherwise — vastly different from its competitors but all yield a similar result: intensity. A look at three of the contenders in this year’s awards races.

Get Out
Score by Michael Abels

In scoring “Get Out,” Los Angeles composer Michael Abels looked to writer, director and star Jordan Peele for direction to the social satire in horror-film guise. “In our first meeting, we came up with this idea of ‘gospel horror,'” says Abels, who first came to Peele’s attention via YouTube. After hearing a classical piece by Abels, Peele tracked him down while the film was still in pre-production. “We talked about African-American music and how it usually has elements of hopefulness. He wanted this to be very suspenseful and without that hope.”

According to Abels, Peele looked for an African-American voice to be present, both literally and figuratively. So the composer wrote phrases like “brother, run, listen to the ancestors, listen to the truth, run, save yourself,” had them translated into Swahili, and hired an eight-person choir to sing them. The voices recur throughout the score.

Peele was so wowed with the results that he used that music over the opening titles, while remainder is mostly strings, harp and percussion, with a smattering of brass and woodwinds “for color and intensity,” adds Abels.

Equally impressive: “Get Out” was Abels’ first feature film score, though the newcomer looked to one of the greats for inspiration: Says Abels: “I felt it needed a Bernard Herrmann-like score because the film so clearly is a psychological thriller.”

Murder on the Orient Express
Score by Patrick Doyle

For Kenneth Branagh’s remake of the Agatha Christie thriller, he called on his longtime collaborator, Scottish composer Patrick Doyle (“Hamlet,” “Henry V”), to underscore the mystery.

Doyle, who describes the music as “a late Baroque-early Classical feel,” was inspired both by the elaborate train that was constructed in Surrey’s Longcross Studios and by actor-director Branagh’s performance as Christie’s famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. “I saw an early clip of Ken as Poirot and I thought, this is like Plato meets Bond, the convergence of two worlds,” he says with a laugh.

Doyle wrote a plaintive piano and cello melody for the backstory involving many of the suspects. He then turned that piece of music into a song, with lyrics written by Branagh and sung by Michelle Pfeiffer at the end of the movie. Says Branagh: “The theme accompanies the sadness and heartbreak at the center of the story. The song expresses a kind of ache inside one of the central characters and offers an additional emotional closure.”

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Score by Carter Burwell

New York-based composer Carter Burwell could be a contender for his middle-America, folk-flavored score for Martin McDonagh’s film about an angry mother (Frances McDormand) who very publicly presses the local police chief (Woody Harrelson) into action to solve her daughter’s murder.

“Martin wanted you to feel you were in this little town,” Burwell says. “The sound of guitars and mandolin seemed true; it felt like that place.”

Burwell opens with a theme that he describes as “emotional and melancholy,” reflecting the loss of her daughter. Then “events careen out of control,” he adds, “and she goes to war with the police. When she’s on the warpath, there’s a clap-stomp, clap-stomp that you might hear in a Baptist church.”

Burwell has two other scores in contention this season: “Wonderstruck” and “Goodbye Christopher Robin.”

More Film

  • Stuber

    ‘Stuber’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Twentieth Century Fox claims the top spot in spending with “Stuber.” Ads placed for the comedy had an estimated media value of $4.91 million through Sunday for 1,325 national ad airings on 42 networks. [...]

  • BTS - J-Hope, V, Jungkook, Jimin,

    BTS' 'Bring the Soul: The Movie' Gets Global Theatrical Release

    BTS will be back on the big screen this summer. The Korean pop group announced today that their latest feature film, “Bring the Soul: The Movie,” will have a global release on August 7. It arrives just six and a half months after the septet’s last film release, “Love Yourself in Seoul.” “Bring the Soul” [...]

  • Box Office: 'Yesterday' Movie Takes on

    Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' and 'Yesterday' Take on 'Toy Story 4'

    The weekend box office has gone to the dolls. “Annabelle Comes Home,” a supernatural horror film about a possessed toy, is facing off against another band of plastic figurines: “Toy Story 4.” Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” is expected to dominate box office charts again over newcomers “Annabelle Comes Home” and “Yesterday,” a fantasy musical set [...]

  • 'The Current War' Trailer: Benedict Cumberbatch,

    Benedict Cumberbatch and Nicholas Hoult Feud in 'The Current War' Trailer (Watch)

    101 Studios has released an official new trailer for the Martin Scorcese-produced thriller, “The Current War,”  offering a glimpse into the dramatic 19th century battle over electricity that became known as the “war of the currents.” The film, which is a dramatization of real-life events, will follow the tumultuous journey of Thomas Edison, played by [...]

  • Ford v Ferrari

    Oscars: 31 Upcoming Films That Could Enter the Awards Race

    The year reaches the halfway mark on June 30, and traditionally films from the first six months have an uphill battle in the Oscar race. However, this year’s January-June crop might get a boost from the accelerated schedule: Nominations voting is a tight Jan. 2-Jan. 7, 2020. So if voters start their homework now, early [...]

  • Yesterday Movie Danny Boyle

    Danny Boyle on 'Yesterday,' Leaving 'Bond 25' and Why the Beatles Still Rock

    Danny Boyle would like to reintroduce you to the Beatles. The iconic foursome certainly needs no introduction, but in his movie “Yesterday,” which debuts June 28, the director envisions a word where nobody has heard of John, Paul, George and Ringo. That is, nobody besides Jack Malik. When the struggling songwriter, portrayed by newcomer Himesh [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content