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Poltergeist by Marc Streitenfeld (Review)

posted May 21, 2015, 5:01 PM by Kaya Savas

As Marc Streitenfeld finds his footing in his post-Scott era, I think Poltergeist was a perfect vehicle for him. His soundscapes and thematic writing always lent themselves to dissonance and suggesting that things were just “off”. He demonstrated pure intensity and existential reflection in The Grey, which I consider to be a mini-masterpiece of a score. He also displayed some great suspense and atmospheres in Prometheus. All that was why I was looking forward to his score to Poltergeist, and luckily he found a way to make a “Streitenfeld” score. Also, the only time I’m going even mention Goldsmith is here when I’m saying I’m not going to mention Goldsmith. So all you angry internet purists who like to throw your crap at the walls can just close the browser window now.

Horror is a genre that is thriving in the independent market, like It Follows and The Babadook for instance. Studio horror films will usually ease off the gas for PG-13 and settle for formulaic, but sometimes it works very well like Gore Verbinski’s The Ring remake. What I like about Poltergeist is that it’s not a horror score that follows the formula exactly. I mean, it does embrace the genre, but this is quite a boisterous score with some great thematic and melodic work. There are pockets where the music will resort to ambient scoring, but even when the score stayed in the background it was contributing to the heightened spooky feel. There are so many unique textures that Streitenfeld uses. I heard crickets, static, and other sounds that were part of the sometimes very chilling builds. Is it effective? Yes. I found the music wasn't scared to be bold and thematic, yet powerfully shaking when it needed to be. Shrieking strings and loud bursts of noises are there, but honestly they felt natural and not there to just scare you. You can kind of feel them coming, which I think heightens the effect. It’s the equivalent of someone hiding around the corner to scare you, or seeing a shadowy figure sprinting towards you down a hallway. One scares you because it’s exploiting your natural involuntary reaction, the other is more terrorizing on an instinctual level. The grand finale, which becomes a swelling swarm of orchestra, is a great way to climax the whole story. Then we bookend with that great wobbly theme that set the tone at the beginning.

Poltergeist is a pretty successful attempt at doing something unexpected for a studio horror picture. For the first time in a long time we focus more on themes and storytelling versus scaring techniques. The score’s structure is great too, with plenty of hair-raising moments and creepy ambient builds. Streitenfeld has a unique voice, you can tell it’s his music the second you hear it, and that also is refreshing instead of hearing recycled sounds and styles. Poltergeist is not a horror masterpiece, but it’s an entertaining and chilling journey done with a steady hand and unique personality.