What do you get when you mix Saw and Escape Room together? Vertical Entertainment’s latest horror title No Escape. The film’s official synopsis reads: A social media star travels with his friends to Moscow to capture new content for his successful VLOG. Always pushing the limits and catering to a growing audience, he and his friends enter a cold world of mystery, excess and danger. As the line between real life and social media is blurred, the group must fight to escape, and survive. No Escape stars Keegan Allen, Holland Roden, Denzel Whitaker, Ronen Rubinstein, Pasha Lynchnikoff, George Janko, and Siya. It was written and directed by Will Wernick. Adding to the thrill ride is the score by composer Crystal Grooms Mangano (Asperger’s Are Us, Forced Move). In the exclusive interview below, we spoke with Crystal about everything from how the Moscow setting affected the score to working with director Will Wernick. No Escape will premiere on VOD platforms September 18th, along with Crystal’s score.
How did you get connected with No Escape? What initially drew you to the film?
I’ve known Will Wernick, the writer/director of the film, for a few years through mutual friends and colleagues. I knew he was working on the script for a new film, and it sounded really exciting. It had an international aspect along with really dark, tense situations that I thought would inspire a unique film score. We started talking about what the score could be for his film as he was writing, and we just continued the conversation as he moved into production.
How would you describe your score for the film?
The score is a blend of big cinematic strings and manipulated recorded audio. We recorded with live strings and a featured solo cellist. To incorporate the heavy, industrial elements of the film, I recorded sounds from a huge metal gate behind my apartment, gathering audio of the gate opening and closing, scraping and pounding. I then cut these recordings up and used them for most of the percussive elements in the score.
At what point were you brought on to the film? After it was already fully complete or during production?
I was brought on to the film relatively early, during pre-production. The director wanted to be able to edit with as much original music as possible, so I started writing before production began.
How involved was the director, Will Wernick, with the film’s score? Did he have a pretty specific idea of what he wanted?
Will was very involved with the score. Initially, we discussed a stark, eerie, less-is-more approach. Once they were deeper in the editing phase, the overall palate of the score shifted. The movie has big, scary moments. The minimalist tone didn’t seem to fit, and we ended up embracing a fuller, more action-oriented score with orchestra. One element that stayed consistent was Will’s idea for a “broken piano”. Originally, I had planned to record a dilapidated piano in a warehouse. However, after planning, researching and talking with audio engineers, I realized that my initial idea wouldn’t provide me with the flexibility and control that I needed. I decided to use samples recorded in a garage from an old piano. By blending this with 2 other traditionally sampled pianos I found a balance of the eeriness I was looking for while not compromising the pitch and flexibility.
How has this film been different than previous ones you have worked on?
With every project, I like to build a unique palette that is specific to the story. Because of the extreme elements of the movie, I was able to work on a grander scale with the score than I have in other films. It was exciting to be able to make big, bold statements with the music.
The film takes place is Moscow. Did this setting change the way you scored the film?
The setting of the film provided inspiration both creatively and logistically. I wanted to incorporate instrumentation that would evoke the setting without being on the nose. I love writing for cello and felt that would be a great featured instrument. For the strings, we decided to record remotely with an orchestra in Moscow, which felt very fitting.
Did you watch any other horror films to get inspiration before working on No Escape? If so, what were they?
Will had mentioned A Quiet Place in our conversations about the score, so I made sure to watch it and was very happy I did, as it is a great film. I was also curious about what other composers had created for stories set in Russia. While the films are very different, I re-visited Howard Shore’s score to Eastern Promises, listening for instrumentation. I also looked to scores like John Powell’s The Bourne Identity for international intrigue and feel.
What type of film would you like to score next?
I would like to compose another thriller. I enjoy any opportunity to use different instrumentation, and the thriller/horror genre seems to lend itself nicely to that type of experimentation.
Is there a specific director or showrunner you would like to work with?
David Lynch, but I’m pretty sure another composer already has that gig ;). I would be honored to work with Lesli Linka Glatter. I am a huge fan of her work from Twin Peaks to Homeland. Her name on a project or episode always signals to me that there are good things coming.
You can learn more about Crystal here: https://groomsymusic.com/
Many thanks to Crystal Grooms Mangano for taking the time for this interview.