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Mama by Fernando Velázquez (Review)

posted Jan 23, 2013, 8:57 PM by christian@filmmusicmedia.com

Spanish composer Fernando Velázquez has already developed quite a respectable history in musical scoring, especially in the thriller/horror genres; though 2008’s The Orphange and 2010’s Devil are lauded works to be sure, Velázquez’s score for last year’s The Impossible is garnering quite the praise of late from fans and critics alike. Tack on another success story, music fans: Velázquez’s score for this year’s Mama is yet another confidently fantastic entry in his quickly-growing catalog.

Guillermo del Toro’s horror film Mama tells the story of two young girls whose mother is murdered by their father, and promptly thereafter, the girls vanish. Five years later, they’re found by relatives in an abandoned cabin, and are being visited upon by supernatural forces. Fernando Velázquez’s score immediately seems to implement thematic material consistent with the story; he starts off with more inadvertent and uneasy tunes, like the rousing vibe of “The Car and the Radio” and the rich and textured horn crescendo of “The Encounter and Main Title,” before moving into “Helvetia,” an unsettling juxtaposition of low-octave horns and screeching string culminations interspersed with short but effective piano, a sumptuous and casually beautiful orchestral track that reminds of John Debney’s Dream House. Future tracks “Observation Room” and “Desange Folder” exhibit similar, almost amorous motifs, the latter introducing a mournful string passage incorporating female chorus and a bubbling development into a strange display of worrisome beauty. It’s all very involved and yet powerful enough not to require being emphasized with overt bursts of volume, a trait common to most modern horror scores with rare exception.

How Velázquez wraps even more charm into the score is doubly impressive. Over the jarring shrieks of string work of “What Happens Now,” sixth track “Voices for the Other Room” lays a beautifully-woven tapestry of subtle orchestral cues, exuding a wonderful childlike reluctance and innocence, delicately draping over the increasingly malevolent, temperamental, and ultimately feral beast into which the score is developing, like an aural lurker in the shadows. Velázquez somehow makes the listener begin to feel at ease in spite of the score’s oppressive nuances, to the point where involvement in the music is both inevitable and unable to be ignored. Later songs such as “Scare and Lucas Wake Up” and “Mama Fight” only contribute to this simultaneous serendipity and paralysis; the former track’s sharp and grating horn descents bleed with true and palpable horror, yet are cautiously melted into a simmer of slow, piano- and string-driven calm. The latter, beginning on a pins-and-needles string melody, erupts into a bombastic flurry of horns and resonant percussion. The monstrous thirteen-minute closing track, “Final Reel,” then contorts in multiple directions, at first creating tiers of unsettling strings, fierce pulses of horns, and ever-so-slight cymbal accentuation, but soon begins to bridge back and forth between other elements like near-ambient forays knotted with female choral vocals, surges of warm and fluttering orchestral passages, and swirling storms of threatening horns and tense string overlays. “Final Reel” ends Mama in a heart-warming yet scathing melody, closing out the album on a hollow and provocative feel indicative of the entire score.

Mama is a beautifully nebulous yet uniquely constructed journey through such resilient emotions as nostalgia, comfort, and burrowing fear. How Velázquez was able to so subtly and unexpectedly unify these elements defines how rare a construct this film score really is, especially in the horror realm; it’s ultimately listenable and resounding, with nary a low point in sight, yet always displays a sense of tangible and resonant dread utilizing delicate arrangements rather than overpowering instrumentation. Fernando Velázquez’s Mama is a truly remarkable and evocative work of art, haunting and ghostly, at times a creepy promenade through almost romantically-tinged orchestral work, and at other times a distressing excursion into atavistic evil charm.