Benjamin Wallfisch interview: ‘The Invisible Man’ composer
When you sign on to score a movie called “The Invisible Man,” there really is just one question you have to ask yourself. “How do you score something invisible?” Benjamin Wallfisch tells Gold Derby at our Meet the BTL Experts: Film Composers panel (watch above). Loosely based on the novel of the same name, the horror film follows Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), who escapes her abusive boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). After Adrian stages his own suicide, he uses his high-powered tech to become invisible to terrorize Cecilia, gaslighting her and nearly ruining her life.
There are stretches of the film where it’s just Cecilia in an empty space before The Invisible Man attacks her, after which it seems like she’s fighting, well, nobody. Wallfisch kept that in mind as he crafted the score for these tense scenes. “It’s almost like weaponizing silence. When the score isn’t there, you almost don’t trust almost it the way you don’t trust the empty spaces on the screen,” he explains. “To do that… we had incredibly off-the-walls bananas electronic stuff, which is deliberately super confrontational and quite weird.”
To ratchet up the suspense even more, Wallfisch deliberately avoided using an underscore to clue viewers in that something bad is going to happen before it happens. “We never wanted to lead the audience,” he continues. “It’s a really interesting process from that point of view because when you’re figuring out where cues come and go, a lot of the time when there isn’t a cue, it’s because, well, why do we need a cue? But our decision was we’re specifically timing this moment and thinking about how that cue ends and how that cue begins so that moment feels so tense.”
While Wallfisch used some very aggro, relentless synth sounds for The Invisible Man, he went in a completely different direction for Cecilia’s theme, although it too carried unease to mirror Cecilia’s escalating paranoia and descent into madness (in the eyes of others). The heroine’s baseline sound is more classical — piano and cello — but with some Hitchcockian flare. Inspired by Bernard Hermann‘s string-heavy score for “Psycho” (1960), Wallfisch wanted to push his cellos to the limit.
“[Hermann] gets so much out of those string players. It’s almost because the players are forced to go beyond their comfort zone all the time because they don’t have the support of the winds or the brass or anything else. It’s something I’ve always been fascinated by whenever I listen to that score and I thought it’d be so cool one day to have that opportunity and this was the perfect chance to try that theory out,” he says, adding that the cello theme represents “who she remembers herself to be and who she’s struggling to get back to through the film.”
This isn’t the first horror film Wallfisch has worked on — he’s also scored “Annabelle: Creaton” (2017), “It” (2017) and “It Chapter Two” (2019) — but the key for him is to not approach these movies as horror films. “I don’t think of it as a horror film. For ‘The Invisible Man,’ there’s a psychological thriller aspect. And in the same way with the ‘It’ movies, which I’m so lucky to be a part of, for me, they’re adventure films and they’re about coming of age. … There’s obviously a lot of terrifying stuff in the movie, but that’s not the point,” he notes. “I always try to bring that approach no matter what the genre is.”