For someone who worships THE OMEN, it might come as a surprise that I’m not a fan of horror films. And I like torture films even less. I don’t understand what entertainment value can be gleaned from watching human beings cause each other extreme emotional and physical torment. So to say watching LAST BREATH was torture is not only an obvious pun, but an understatement.
The film, which made the rounds of the horror film festival circuit but was released direct-to-video, stars director/writer Ty Jones and Mandy Bannon as an unhappily married couple locked inside an abandoned warehouse and tortured by an unknown assailant. This low-budget thriller features sub-par acting and the obligatory scenes of mental and physical anguish. And yet by the time the deus ex machina is put into motion, Jones surprisingly has something important to say about domestic violence and its effect on children. On the plus side for film music fans is an effective horror score by Vincent Gillioz (recently released on Howlin’ Wolf Records) that goes beyond genre conventions.
The album bookends with a warm main theme for the family that soars in the full orchestra. With its missed chances, lost love, and unspoken pain, the dramatic theme is orchestrated with rich, deep sonorities that ironically belie the melody’s inherent sense of safety and stability.
Gillioz subtly employs piano to give us hints at the characters’ relationships. In cues like “To the Core” and “Mystery in the Shed,” the piano is warm and lyrical. For the Dark Figure (Aaron Laue), a quiet prepared piano adds to the character’s eerie, off-balance presence.
Horror music wouldn’t be horror music without its conventions and fans of the genre will find much to appreciate here—skittering pizzicatos, descending portamenti and vicious trills in the strings, swelling chords and belching brass, and pulsating moments of musical flight. Cues such as “Locked In” feature some effective aleatoric sequences in the high woodwinds. These conventions, while expected, are used quite effectively to ratchet up the tension even further.
Gillioz deliberately blends the acoustic and synthetic sonic elements, blurring the line between reality and allegory. As the story progresses and reality becomes more twisted, the two elements intertwine and synth samples battle it out against the orchestral forces. Gillioz effectively adds a metallic reverb to much of the score, underscoring the locale of the abandoned warehouse, with its disintegrating interior and danger lurking around every dark, dripping corner.
What is perhaps most effective about the score is the subtle use of solo instruments—oboe, clarinet, cello, flute—emerging out of the harsh sonic textures. These moments give much needed musical breathing space and a false sense of calm among the dissonant harmonies and instrumental textures necessary to accompany the story.
Gillioz goes beyond the film’s “torture-porn” elements, conveying the vicious horror yet also latching onto the humanity that the filmmakers were going for. The result is a score that surprises and surpasses expectations for the genre. LAST BREATH is a well-crafted effort that is incredibly effective for those that can stomach the film, yet stands alone on its own musical merits.