When it was announced back in October that John Corigliano’s score for the Mel Gibson thriller EDGE OF DARKNESS had been rejected in the 11th hour (the film was due to open a few weeks later), I was sorely disappointed. I had been looking forward to a new score from the Oscar winner after a 10-year hiatus. But the disappointment was tempered by the promise of a new Howard Shore score.
Headlining a film for the first time since his 2002 lead role in SIGNS, Gibson stars in this remake of the 1985 British miniseries (moving the action from Yorkshire to Boston) as a homicide detective seeking to avenge the murder of his daughter. Shore leaves the Shire behind (though fans of the LORD OF THE RING music will hear echoes of those famous scores in this one) and returns to the dark sonic world of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and the David Cronenberg films.
The score begins quietly with an arpeggiated harp ostinato (a motif that returns throughout the score) that plinks its way over an understated theme in the cellos and basses. Flutes undulate and the high strings hover until the rough growl of the brass interrupts the placid atmosphere. After that, you view all the quiet moments with dread.
The placid mood returns for the next couple of tracks with the harp playing a tender theme of mourning, followed by a lovely cue on the “Beach”. The anxiety cranks up a bit with the fourth track, “Knife,” as the growling brass return over jungle drums, but it is only fleeting. It is not until we get to the shrieking violins of the brutal “Hit & Run” that Shore is allowed a chance to really cut loose.
Shore uses piano and oboe to create a lovely theme for Gibson’s daughter, “Emma,” which morphs into the menacing musical world of the harp ostinato. The theme closes out the album on a lighter note in “You’re My Girl.”
The most brutal music occurs in the “Killing.” The opening brass growl is back, the basses and timpani beat out a muffled heartbeat in the background, and the high strings shriek with terror. The cue goes through a number of changing musical moods, and none of them pleasant. The perfect accompaniment to a vicious act.
Shore is one of the few composers that can convey so much dread with so little. Sure, he can pump up the volume and layer on the Brucknerian harmonic layers when he wants to, but EDGE OF DARKNESS is a far more subtle score than I expected for a Mel Gibson shoot ’em up flick. This is a score of quiet, understated menace, and the music rarely gets above mezzo forte except during the brutal violence cues. Listen to the score with headphones on to catch all the subtle nuances of Shore’s orchestrations.
EDGE OF DARKNESS is not a score that hits you over the head with its power immediately. It may take a few listens to grasp the many layers at work in the score. Those who are willing to give it more than a cursory listen will be rewarded with some interesting musical ideas that are probably swallowed up by sound effects in the film.