The Soundtrack to Room | A Review of Stephen Rennicks’ Masterful Score
Irish collaborative duo Lenny Abrahamson and Stephen Rennicks soar with one of 2015’s most anticipated and critically acclaimed feature films; Room. Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, Room boasts a career best from Brie Larson as well as a breakthrough performance from the inspired Jacob Tremblay, who was no more than eight-years-old at the time of filming. Abrahamson delivers the harrowing story of Joy Newsom and her five-year-old son Jack who after years of being held captive in one singular room, gain their freedom, exposing young Jack to a world which he never knew existed. Rennicks’ soundtrack mimics the ever-increasing disclosure of this new world and matures to Tremblay’s performance accordingly.
Dublin-based composer Stephen Rennicks has been crafting original music for the best of independent film in Ireland, the U.K. and America for the better half of two decades. Room marks Rennicks’ fifth collaboration with director Lenny Abrahamson and comes fresh off the back of their 2014 cult hit Frank, starring Micheal Fassbender and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Rennicks’ work with Abrahamson is widely considered as one of Irish cinema’s most compelling contemporary partnerships. With memorable features such as Garage (2007) and What Richard Did (2012), the road to Room has been paved with cinematic prowess. Donoghue’s screenplay provides Rennicks with his most universal platform to date, a challenge which he takes in his stride.
Much like the film itself, Rennicks’ soundtrack triumphs in engaging the audience emotionally. The score imitates the visual in that it is presented through Jack’s perspective alone. Subsequently the names and content of Rennicks’ pieces (e.g. Wardrobe, Mouse, Eggshells, Roll Up) are simple and compact, mirroring Jack’s life in Room. Despite being a largely visually conceptive piece, Room’s short musical features act as a platform of reflection for Jack, often cueing Tremblay’s monologues. In terms of instrumentation, Rennicks forms his compositions around two key aspects; piano and violin, which can be seen as the embodiment of Jack and Joy respectively. The piano-based melodies are direct and naïve with very little room for movement. While the violin arrangements can be personified as Joy; mature, tense and damaged, all the while overseeing the piano with a harmonious maternal instinct.
In essence Stephen Rennicks’ soundtrack can be divided into two contrasting sections; music within Room and music without Room. Music within Room showcases the piano and violin arrangements intertwined and isolated. Wardrobe is the perfect example of this. Jack’s innocence and playfulness is portrayed through the dance-like piano melody. He is guarded by Joy (strings) and feels safe from Old Nick. Alternatively Out of Wardrobe sees this melody more cautious, without strings at a slower tempo as if Jack is tiptoeing. In Eggshells we hear the return of the playful piano and violin motifs, reflecting Jack and Joy’s eggshell activity together. Finally Mouse represents the only other living thing in Room than Joy and Old Nick that Jack interacts with, consequently the music is compassionate, full of awe and wonder.
Once Jack is freed from Room, Rennicks’ soundtrack matures and develops with richer instrumentation and depth. Cops accompanies Jack’s first interaction with the outside world and uses electronic keyboard and synthesisers to reflect his confusion and anxiety. In The World sees one of Room’s main musical themes expanded upon in length, instrumentation and compositional arrangement. Try Everything is an extremely important piece in that the piano melody has matured and now works in harmony with a full ensemble, much like Jack’s eventual acceptance of and participation in this new world. Both End and New End perfectly capture Rennicks’ music without Room section. These pieces are beautifully layered, rich in harmony with forceful dynamics suggesting a hopeful future for Jack and Joy. In conclusion, Stephen Rennicks provides a highly emotive soundtrack with the innate ability to mature with Jack’s exposure to the outside world.
Room is in cinemas now.
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