Jeff Grace’s quietly elegant House of the Devil is a perfect match for Ti West’s inherently slow pacing, adding little doses of unease to creeping camera movements, still shots, or otherwise mundane moments when the babysitter has suspicions there’s something very weird about the isolated house she’s in.
When distilled to basic plot points, there’s not much to House of the Devil, but Grace keeps expanding on his little chiming motif, adding more unsteady tones, increasingly shrill chords and warped notes from strings otherwise heard in plaintive configurations ("The View Upstairs").
Much like The Roost, Grace sticks with simplicity – piano and strings – to create unsettling sonic images in tracks like “Original Inhabitants,” brilliantly taking the components of an already unsteady chord and having them drift apart, accent tones, and suddenly deepen in tenor.
A larger orchestral sound (including brass and percussion) is introduced in “Mother,” and alongside pizzicato strings and a steady percussion rumble, the cue’s about discovering a horrible truth, and finding oneself in a nasty, inextricable situation. Grace’s cue begins with an orchestral surge, switches to a reverberating pall of doom, and gradually progresses from sustained chords to metallic clamor.
The selection of original cues (which had to function between a number of vintage 80s synth and rock cues) comes to a close with a 5+ mins. suite, and a final thematic statement – the unsettling lament, “Mrs. Ulman.”
The album’s second score is I Can See You, composed for Graham Reznick’s Lynchian thriller, and like House of the Devil, the music was meant to fit between additional cues (material composed and performed by Reznick’s own band).
Like the film, the music is a mix of electronic, rock, synth, and orchestral, and its eclecticism still works within the album. The slow and steady rock beat and synth drones in “Today in New York City” is an overt tribute to John Carpenter, whereas “Pitch Meeting” is a just free-form pattern on keyboards, deliberately performed out of tune.
“Summer Day” is the album’s longest cue, and within its 6 mins. running time, Grace slowly moves from gentle waves of synth and string chords towards the integration of ascending string motifs, creating a peculiar elegy for characters whose fates have yet to be determined.
The film’s midsection and weird dream sequence is largely scored with music by Reznick and a musical number, but the remaining Grace cues cover the episodes where characters disappear, bicker, and ponder their fates as the night sets in and the darkened forest becomes an alluring force. “Doug Escapes” features wooden trunk percussion, and “The Cliff” is a great mix of distant metallic shimmering and weird brass moaning. “Evening Fog” switches to experimental, disharmonious strings after a large brass statement, and the cue is somewhat compressed in the eponymous “I Can See You,” played in the film when the lead character suddenly moves from reality into Reznick's pure bizarro world.
Little of Grace’s music is featured in the film’s concluding scenes, but the album closes with the lovely “Swimming Hole,” featuring dual acoustic guitars, evoking a contemplative moment for the lead character; and “Passing Trees,” which reintroduces the detuned keyboard solo heard in “Pitch Meeting.”
An interview with composer Jeff Grace is also available.
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan