The success of Robert Eggers’ The Witch (review) is something that every horror fan should be celebrating, whether or not you think the movie qualifies as horror. What matters is that a film that is being marketed as horror (and is getting loads of acclaim) did extremely well in its opening weekend, especially considering the competition, and has a lot of people talking.
One of the most beloved aspects of the film is the score, which was composed by Mark Korven. Hailed by our own Kalyn Corrigan as “unsettling” and Film on Wax’s Charlie Brigden as “lonesome” and “utterly rewarding”, Korven’s music is terrifying audiences everywhere and for very good reason: It’s scary as hell!
Below is an interview with Korven where we talk about the inspirations for the music, the instruments used, and whether or not Korven was himself so unsettled by the music that he had to step away for a moment here and there! Additionally, there are two unused tracks from the film that you can listen to!
‘The Witch’ has received massive critical acclaim since its premiere and has only grown in terms of audience interest. Are you surprised by this success or did you have a feeling that this movie was something special?
I knew it was special right at the script stage. It was going to be good and I knew that I had to do the score for it. And then when I met Robert Eggers, I knew that I had to work with him. It was so inspiring to be around someone with that kind of laser focus, with such a unique creative vision. As far as the success of the film, this I wasn’t too sure about. It was very much an art house piece, which I personally loved, but I wondered whether or not a wide audience would connect with it. But I don’t think this question was at the forefront. Everyone was just intent on helping Robert realize his vision for the film.
‘The Witch’ is a movie that is different from many modern horror films in that it takes place during a time when there isn’t any electrical technology, not even for lights. Did this near-luddite lifestyle that the main characters live in affect how you approached scoring the film?
Yes, in that we both wanted to keep things quite minimal, and keep any human imperfections in the score. The score is tense and dissonant, but there’s also a certain fragility there, which reflects these people living on the edge of existence.
The movie rarely ever feels open, taking place mainly in the farmhouse and the woods. And even when the characters are outside, there is still this oppressive miasma that hangs overhead. Was this claustrophobic feeling something you embraced and utilized?
The claustrophobic feeling was really something that Robert was shooting for. He wanted the film to just lay on top of people like a 90 minute puritan nightmare. I think he said once that in order for it to be horror, it had to be horrifying. Musically speaking that resulted in a score that was far more dissonant than anything I’d ever done. It just never lets up.
Due to the time period that the movie takes place in, did you try to keep the instrumentation authentic to that period or did you feel like the supernatural aspect of the film granted a certain amount of sonic freedom?
Robert didn’t want any traditional harmony or melody in the score, but he wanted it to still fit within the family’s world. So it came down to the instrument selection. The backbone of the score was actually a Swedish instrument called the nyckelharpa. It’s a medieval keyed violin and when Rob first heard it he said, “That’s it, that’s the sound of the score”. It was unique, but felt like it was of that time. So no, we weren’t really slaves to the period at all and our ears were are only guide. Which made it I think, the only exception in the entire film, since its attention to period detail is extremely O.C.D.! The water phone was used a lot as well, and that’s a 20th century experimental instrument.
Being completely open and honest, your score freaked me out more than a few times. I have to know if you ever got unsettled by your own music and had to take a break from writing and recording.
No, I can pretty much handle anything at all musically. Most of the music I get asked to write is pretty tense. I guess I’m typecast! It’s the content that disturbs me sometimes, like when I scored “Shake hands with the Devil” which was about the Rwandan genocide. I definitely needed a break during that. Oh…and sorry about freaking you out!