The Sounds of NO ESCAPE: Interview with Composer Crystal Grooms Mangano
In a social media centered world, how far is too far for the perfect vlog? That’s the question that Cole, played by Pretty Little Liars’ Keegan Allen, finds himself asking in Will Wernick’s upcoming horror/thriller No Escape.
A social media personality travels with his friends to Moscow to capture new content for his successful VLOG. Always pushing the limits and catering to a growing audience, they enter a cold world of mystery, excess, and danger.
Ahead of the film’s premiere, we caught up with the composer, Crystal Grooms Mangano and discussed everything No Escape. Read the full Q&A below!
No Escape is being released on VOD by Vertical Entertainment on September 18th. Crystal’s score for the film will also be released digitally on the same day. Enjoy a preview of the soundtrack below.
Dread Central: Did Will Wernick, the director of No Escape, have a very specific way he wanted the score to sound? If so, what were his directions?
Crystal Grooms Mangano: Will was great to work with and had some exciting ideas for the score from the beginning. As the film started to take shape in the edit bay, we realized that our initial tone for the score was not serving the story as well as we wanted, so we shifted directions. We had started very stark and eerie, but ultimately went a more dramatic route with the music. However, one element Will wanted from the beginning did stay consistent. He wanted the piano to sound “broken”. After discussing and researching different ways to obtain this sound, we ended up going with a blended approach, using samples from an old piano recorded in a garage along with two other sampled pianos. The end result is an eerie, hard to pinpoint piano sound.
DC: Was there ever a time while working on No Escape when you decided less is more? At very specific times sometimes silence can create even more tension.
CGM: This was an ongoing topic through the scoring process. Sometimes less is more, but sometimes more is more, and choosing when and how to use each approach is a bit of a puzzle. In scenes where the characters are particularly vulnerable because they are in an exposed space, it heightened the risk to use less music, allowing the audience to feel suspense in a different way.
DC: There is a club scene in the film, did you compose that music too or was that the music supervisor?
CGM: The music in the club scene is by the artist Rough Night. This was an idea Will had, and I think it works perfectly. The style and energy of the music adds to the confidence of the characters and creates a dynamic environment.
DC: Did you watch any horror films before beginning work on No Escape for inspiration?
CGM: Will referenced A Quiet Place early in our conversations. I hadn’t seen it yet, so I took the opportunity to watch it. Composer Marco Beltrami and his team are great at crafting unique scores, and this was no exception. It motivated me to incorporate unusual soundscapes into my score. No Escape takes place in Moscow, so I also revisited other scores like John Powell’s The Bourne Identity for inspiration using instrumentation to contribute to an international feel.
DC: There are some scenes in the film that are pretty gentle feeling, like when Erin is speaking, that have a very different vibe then the rest of the film. Was it hard to go back and forth between these extremes?
CGM: I really enjoyed scoring these scenes. They offer a bit of a breather and highlight that Erin, the main character’s girlfriend, is a grounding presence in his life. These softer moments also work like a springboard back into the more suspenseful scenes and give the music room to shift and propel the story forward.
DC: What instrument in No Escape made the most terrifying sound?
CGM: One instrument that I think is particularly creepy is the thunder drum. I recorded it a few different ways, then distorted and stretched it. I think it works well because it’s not very identifiable. I also love the low, gritty cello. It brings such a rich character to the music.
DC: Because the main character in No Escape is a vlogger, there is some footage that he shot himself in the film. Did you feel the need to score that material differently?
CGM: There is a very specific, unique style to the music a vlogger like Cole, the main character, would use. At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Cole through a video he is making. To stay true to this type of content, the director placed existing music that fits this vibe. It works well to contrast the difference between Cole in his videos and Cole in real life.
DC: What would you say is your main goal as a composer of a film like No Escape?
CGM: The overall goal of any score is to enhance the story and help the audience connect to the film. With No Escape, I was excited to try new ideas with instrumentation and recording techniques. I wanted to explore creative ways to connect what you are seeing on screen with what you are hearing in the music. The film incorporates metal, gears, and other industrial elements into the story and production design, so I used similar sounds in the music to bring those elements together.
DC: Can you talk about the film’s ending credits. They have a very menacing vibe. Was that the goal?
CGM: The end of the film is very intense, and I carried that tone through the end credits as the audience reflects on what they’ve just seen. Personally, the film leaves me feeling very anxious, so I conveyed that through the music.