It's become more straightforward for a studio-funded horror and thriller film to get a soundtrack release, and while the scoring trend has been either avant garde or embellished sound design (sound shocks & stabs, eerie sampled voices, ambient textures, and the familiar reprocessed percussion samples), it's more uncommon for a genre film to have a melodic horror score.
This isn't a knock against the aforementioned - avant garde and good sound design can be loads of fun - but the melodic content in horror scores has become a bit of a rarity. Marco Beltrami's brilliantly retro score for the luxurious but totally unnecessary Omen remake showed how melody still has a place in the genre - note that those short thirty-second phrases within a fifty minute score of sheer terror don't really count as formal tracks of melody - but the overt lyricism of Half Light is a real gem amid the more cacophonous exercises of 2006.
Aussie composer Brett Rosenberg's approach is a very pleasing use of intimate themes with darkly shaded suspense cuts. Drawing from the warm and semi-tragic melodic material in the score's first quarter, Rosenberg periodically dips into more traditional horror terrain - as in "The Drowning" - but his approach is more twentieth-century classical - perhaps a sign that the composer wanted to fully exploit the film's characters and all the subtle subtext beneath the actors' performances.
Fans of Christopher Young's early scores will appreciate Rosenberg 's polish and superb use of a full orchestra, although the score contains much lighter musical fare than Young's often melancholic ideas. Here, the emotional scope is much broader, as the vocal additions - more mystical than terrifying - infer a child-like curiosity to things dark and foreboding.
Rosenberg 's vocal tonalities in several cues also recall James Newton Howard's usage for a character's moment of self-reflection, and they're gently accompanied by seven-note piano cascades (as in the meaty "Drowning" cue).
The film's location work on the Island of Llanddwyn in North Wales inspired the composer to write a score that smoothly glides between warm, folk-styled melodies - "Thomas Appears/The Island" and "Dreams and Drownings," with its beautiful violin solo and piano accompaniment - and tracks that conjure a distinct sense of isolation, fear of separation, and a fear of the unknown in dark recesses, as in "He's Dead." "The Haunting" is just as potent, which blends innocence and terror via woodwind and eddying strings caught in a spiraling series of figures.
MovieScore Media's album seems to carry the whole score, including all the brief bridging cues, yet the musical narrative is diverse, fluid, and intriguing, largely because Rosenberg's distinct theme variations are buffered by solid chunks of gentle underscore that sometimes leaps out and bites the listener, as in "Dreams and Drowning."
Overall, Half Light delivers a pleasant level of surprise that older fans might recall when they found a few orchestral gems in the record bins amid the standard synth scores during the eighties. Definitely one of the most enjoyable orchestral genre scores of 2006.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan