When you hear the phrase, “there’s something in my house” that something is never a good thing. This is the premise of Jennifer Reeder’s new horror film, Night’s End, which is available now on AMC Network’s Shudder. The official synopsis being: “In Night’s End, an anxious shut-in unwittingly moves into a haunted apartment and hires a mysterious stranger to perform an exorcism which takes a horrific turn.” Adding dread to the exorcism tale is the score by Casey J. Cooper (CoastalDives), whom describes the music as ambient and experimental, with a bit of a vintage horror sound. We spoke to Casey more in depth about his work on the film in the below exclusive interview.
How did you first get connected to Night’s End?
Thank you for having me. I’ve been working with Jennifer Reeder for years. The first short film I scored for her was in 2010 and we’ve worked together on numerous films since. She contacted me last summer about Night’s End with some basic details and invited me in on the project. The idea of doing a feature length film for her with Shudder was very intriguing to me, so of course I signed on.
What did preproduction look like for you? How did you decide what the musical vibe was going to be?
First, I read the script and thought the story was really interesting, and darker than anything I’ve worked on. So before I saw any part of the film, I started composing generic themes for different scenarios. I wrote a few ominous themes, a few for slow building tension, a few that were highly dissonant and uncomfortable. I was just building up a library to have options, once I was able to apply the music to the film. My style has always been a bit melancholic and introspective, and this seemed to fit the mood of the film really well. The main character is a recluse who is separated from everyone and recently divorced. He’s sad, a bit lost. And the movie is very slow building. My style fits well in this kind of world so it wasn’t a huge stretch for me during most of the film.
How would you describe the score?
I composed most of the score with two analog synthesizers and some orchestral tones, so there’s a bit of vintage horror sound happening. As with most of my music, it’s still ambient and experimental throughout most of the film. I emphasized making it somewhat dark and ominous because that’s what the film calls for. Sometimes it’s a little ugly. But it’s not all scary. There are pretty moments sprinkled throughout with a lot of gentle sustained chords and nice textures, but always with an undercurrent of discomfort. My goal was to keep it subtle until things get way out of hand in the film. Then I was able to go a little crazy with dissonance and harsher texture which was a lot of fun.
How hands on was director Jennifer Reeder with the score? Did she have a pretty specific idea of how she wanted the film to sound, or did she give you more freedom?
Luckily, Reeder knows my style since we’ve worked together a lot in the past. She said she trusted me and to do what I thought felt right. So I’d spend a decent amount of time on each scene, doing what I believed worked well. Of course, my goal is to make her happy and to support her ideas. And I’m not happy unless she’s happy. But we’ve always seemed to work well together. A lot of this film is slow and moody, with really nice colors. That made it easier for me to settle in and inject my own subdued musical style.
What scene was the most difficult for you to score? Why?
The scene during the exorcism was a tough one. I was fast approaching the deadline, and originally composed what I thought worked well in a non-traditional way. The music I intuitively wrote for this scene was solemn, a bit sad, but pretty. I thought it had a really captivating effect combined with the dark visuals and subject matter. But it’s the one scene that Reeder had to steer me back on track to achieve her vision. She told me she needed “terror”, “death”, something “sinister”. I’ve never written anything that could be described in those terms. But I was really up against the clock and immediately started writing with these adjectives in mind. I had to recalibrate and dive in for the next 12 hours. But now I’m really happy with that part of the score…it might be my favorite part. It was a big challenge and pretty far out of my comfort zone. But that’s probably why I’m so happy with it now. I wouldn’t have ever written anything like it had it not been for Reeder pushing me, challenging me to compose with “terror” in mind.
You have been in a lot of bands, but according to IMDB this is your first feature film to score. Is that correct? What prompted you to make that transition?
This is my first feature length film score. But I’ve done a number of short films over the years along with some music/sound design for art installations. So this didn’t feel like a transition. I’ve always enjoyed juggling music for album release, live shows and touring, along with music for film. In a way writing for film is more enjoyable because my job is to elevate someone else’s vision entirely rather than just my own.
We have heard of composers using “found objects” in their scores, in order to create a different kind of sound. Did you do anything like that for Night’s End?
All of this score was composed with just a couple of synths and some subtle strings, horns, and reeds. I wanted to compose intuitively and with my own sound, which leans heavily on synthesizers. But it seemed that integrating something more conventional like strings made a lot of sense. It ended up being a synthesizer/orchestral hybrid. Dissonant strings, even if really subtle, work so well when you’re aiming for an eerie mood. There’s always a bit of that happening underneath the various themes to keep things just a little uncomfortable.
What kind of project would be your dream to score? Sci-fi? Period piece? Disaster movie?
Composing for a slow-moving sci-fi film would be a dream. It would allow me to use the synth tones and moods I already know and love, but would push me to go bigger with orchestration. I think science fiction lends itself to being highly imaginative and colorful, and composing music to emphasize that would be really fun and challenging.
What are you currently working on?
I’m always writing for my other bands and playing shows. But at the moment I’m excited for a CoastalDives album that will be released within the next few months. It’s a collection of synthesizer pieces that I wrote just before this film score and it’s my favorite solo batch to date. So I’ve been getting everything ready for that and then we’ll see what lands next.