When Benjamin Wallfisch learned that he was going to compose the score for the 2020 reboot of “The Invisible Man,” he deliberately stayed away from rewatching the 1933 original. The goal, he says, was “to keep the sound as fresh as possible.”
Director Leigh Whannell showed Wallfisch the film with no temp music as all, with the idea that he didn’t want something with wall-to-wall scoring. Wallfisch, who has composed scores for “Blade Runner 2049,” “Hidden Figures” and “Shazam,” found it unusual to view a film that way, but ultimately found it helped in the approach he took to composing. “We wanted to use silence rhythmically,” Wallfisch explains. “We made bold musical gestures, so that the absence of music is something you feel.”
Whannell created a film that is stressful to watch as Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) tries to escape from her menacing monster. While she’s reassured by her sister (Harriet Dyer) and good friend James, who also happens to be a cop (Aldis Hodge), that she’s safe, the viewer knows that’s far from true.
That approach allowed Wallfisch to turn to his hero, Bernard Herrmann, the mastermind composer behind Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films. “With ‘Psycho,’ he just used a string orchestra and this was a great opportunity to write a love letter to my great hero, Herrmann, in my way,” Wallfisch says. “The first step was to write a score that was only made up of a string orchestra.” But once he had that, he added in electronics and synths to give the score a more twisted and nervy edge.
When we first meet our characters, Cecilia and Adrian, there’s a deliberate contrast between their music. Wallfisch explains, “Her themes have this innate strength in them because it’s a story about a woman whose world crumbles around her, who no one believes, and she is someone who is fighting for her sanity and her truth throughout.”
Cecilia’s cello theme is heard three or four times, invoking who she is, the memory of who she is and what she holds onto. Wallfisch says he experimented with the sound. “We used unusual mixing techniques, sometimes surrounding the audience with a wall of sound, and sometimes only using one microphone on one violin.” Along with the cello theme, he embedded a piano motif that also builds in the same way her strength does.
Adrian’s motif, on the other hand, was about being technologically advanced, since he had mastered the science of invisibility. “We were thinking what would that technologically would sound like if it embodied music,” Wallfisch says. Adrian’s sound was aggressive and created through synths. The composer found inspiration in EDM; a dark, gritty, electronic sound, but very cinematic.
The score was about being confrontational. “That was deliberate,” Wallfisch says. “You’d have this full-on sound and it’s aggressive, but the resonance of that sound still echoes and you don’t trust the silence.”