The Lowdown: When looking at the renaissance of indie horror films in the last decade, one of the central tenets are the immersive scores that add to create the mood and leave the viewer with a sinking feeling. Through scores like Disasterpeace’s foreboding synths on It Follows, Mica Levi’s swirling haze on Under the Skin, and Colin Stetson’s trembling saxophone on last year’s Hereditary, the feature film debut by Ari Aster, this wave of new horror classics is planted firmly in the tradition of memorable, daring scores. Added to the list is Bobby Krlic’s score for Midsommar, Aster’s follow-up to Hereditary about a group of American students who travel to a small village in rural Sweden to partake in a local festival.
The film stars an electrifying Florence Pugh as Dani, a grief-stricken young woman searching for solace and belonging after a horrible tragedy, and Jack Reynor as Christian, the other half of their deteriorating, codependent relationship. Their gradual drift apart and the bewilderment of the entire group on their slow march towards unspeakable horrors in the village are soundtracked spectacularly by Krlic. In his first film score composed entirely on his own, he carries the ominous gloom from his records as The Haxan Cloak while also drawing on the oppressive brightness of the film’s setting, making for a piece of music simultaneously terror-filled and inspirational.
The Good: Aster has explained in interviews that he wrote the script of Midsommar while exclusively listening to Haxan Cloak records, particularly the 13-minute epic “The Drop” on 2013’s Excavation, and knew from the beginning that Krlic was the one for this. Krlic’s music has always been grand and sweeping, operating on a scale predestined for a big screen, and his compositions here serve as an ideal match. His work alongside Atticus and Leopold Ross in producing scores for Triple 9 and Almost Holy gave him the background to step out on his own, and that experience shows in the way that the score never overpowers the events unfolding onscreen, only elevating the mood to capture precisely what is intended. Whether it’s the fairy-tale wonder of “The House That Hårga Built”, which comes when Dani first views the community’s main house, or the slow creep of “Attestupan”, where the music is a slow creep of light and warmth that is slowly overtaken by imposing drone sounds as it segues into “Ritual in Transfigured Time”, which underscores a particularly shocking moment onscreen. “Gassed”, an early standout, accompanies the brilliant opening sequence, a claustrophobic slice of terror that Krlic articulates as the wild disaster it is.
Through his discography as The Haxan Cloak, Krlic has always delved into darkness, emphasizing the low end of his production as he crafts instrumentals filled with suffocating dread that give way to transcendence. The film, however, is drenched in light, with every sequence illuminated by brightness, to coincide with its setting of the longest days of the year, where the sun’s presence goes from welcoming to omnipresent and menacing as the local villagers follow that same path. While The Haxan Cloak sounds are quite distinct, Krlic has a history of producing records for rock and pop artists like LUH and serpentwithfeet, adding lush, orchestral production that breathes life into the songs, and he carries this element on moments like the spectacular nine-minute closer, “Fire Temple”, a beautiful roar that underscores the dynamic set-piece that concludes the film. Without giving anything away in the film, the composition takes all of the themes present in the earlier part of the score and swirls them together to craft a moment of splendor, where the violins swell and erupt into a rousing crescendo that completely wins the scene.
The Bad: While some film scores tend to drag, Midsommar’s sticks closely to a tight 40-minute selection, making for a listening experience that stands out on its own. Tied to a film with as much visual poetry and intricately composed imagery as this, the score is distinct, to where the scenes live on in your head as you revisit the music. The score is strong enough on its own to be a beguiling listen, but it’s the context of the wondrously grotesque events of the film that give it gravity. Missing from this release, however, are some of the memorable musical elements from the film, the diegetic songs and music of the villagers that make for some of the film’s strangest and creepiest moments, which accompany Krlic’s score in a way that truly breathes life into the film. While those songs aren’t technically a part of the score, and their exclusion not really a knock against this release, the absence is noticeable.
The Verdict: Krlic’s score continues the trend of engrossing compositions by experimental musicians accompanying some of the most daring movies in recent years, slotting nicely alongside works like Levi’s, Stetson’s, or Daniel Lopatin’s already classic score for 2017’s Good Time. Critics have debated about the originality and effectiveness of the film, but Krlic’s score stands out as one of the most striking features, perfectly calibrated to portray the sense of enrapture that the film strives for. From the chaotic opening to the cathartic ending, Krlic’s score works wonders, while engrossing enough to stand on its own outside of the film as well.
Essential Tracks: “Gassed”, “The House That Hårga Built”, and “Fire Temple”