What is it?
She Will is the feature film debut of director-writer Charlotte Colbert. It’s a psychological horror film starring Alice Krige, about a former film star who goes to a medical retreat located at the site of witch burnings, and subsequently connects to its dark past. It first premiered in 2021, but got its wide distribution in July, 2022.
While both the poster and the score promise a visionary witch film on the scale of Suspiria, it is surprisingly flat. Both in terms of mise-en-scene and horror grit. The endless stream of flashbacks, dreams and hallucinations eventually grate, and have the visceral impact of a low budget television film from the 90s. Granted, there are small seeds of something textural and tangential – especially in certain night time scenes – but nothing that gets pushed sufficiently to the forefront. The ambition may have been to mirror interpersonal relationships and observations about gender rather than sensations of horror, but unlike, say, Natalie Erika James’ excellent Relic (2020), the connection between them feels detached.
Composer Clint Mansell (b. 1963) is one of our most idiosyncratic composers – from the curious rock excursions of his former band Pop Will Eat Itself to his many collaborations with director Darren Aronofsky. His theme from Requiem for a Dream (2000) continues to be a reference point to this day, and frequently appears in trailers. Among his non-Aronofsky works, scores likes Stoker (2013) and Moon (2009) have become fan favourites.
How is it?
This is one of those cases where the score appears to have been composed for a much better film than what it is. In fact, it sounds like something that would have been perfect for a new Alien film, if you replaced witches with xenomorphs.
It doesn’t take long before we’re firmly and delightfully placed within his classic Aronofsky sound – the kind of otherworldly strings and flute sounds combined with middle eastern harmonies that have been the trademark of films like The Fountain (2006) or Noah (2014). It’s all there in the 10-minute opener «Evocation».
The great strength of this score is that it eschews traditional horror tropes like stingers and tenuto strings, and instead opts for a slower, more majestic approach – what I’ve often labelled “delicious darkness”. Most of the 11 tracks are of generous length and allow for a hypnotic build that stays in mid register and swirls, in typical Mansell fashion, within repetitive, quasi-minimalist figures (at 45 minutes, the album is also beautifully curated as a whole).
Added to the Aronofsky sound are interesting instrumental details – some soft-strumming guitars, an occasional discrete synth pulse and of course the obligatory female chanting that is a must in witch-themed movies – like in the last half of «Come Together» or especially the highlight track «Rebirth». But the best part of the album is the middle section, where it’s more ethereal and pastoral; more melancholic than mysterious, such as «Veil of Protection» or «Times Boundaries Blurred». Separated from the movie, this is where it gets properly and genuinely introspective.
She Will is by no means a new Mansell masterpiece, as it tends to follow his trademark sound pretty closely, but in this day and age – given the stale nature of many of its genre colleagues – it’s a score that feels comforting and solid. Its idiosyncratic strength becomes a source of refreshment.