The Nordic Sounds of Shudder’s ‘Leave’: An Interview with Composer Jamie Christopherson


Norse mythology is rich with stories of giants, gods, and other cryptid creatures. So it’s no surprise the region is perfect for the horror genre. Some of the most popular Nordic horror titles include Let the Right One In (2008), Midsommar, The Ritual, Lamb, Lights Out, and Dead Snow. Shudder’s latest release, Leave, also falls into this category.

Directed by Alex Herron, the Leave synopsis reads:

An abandoned infant is found in a cemetery in the United States. The child is wrapped in a blanket with satanic symbols. A Wolf’s Cross pendant hangs around her neck. Twenty years later: Hunter is obsessed with finding out why she was abandoned and who her biological parents are. A genetic test, the blanket, and the Wolf’s Cross lead her to Norway. Hunter is closing in on the terrifying truth, but visions of a dark figure warn her: LEAVE!

Nordic films have a very unique sound to them, almost folk-like. So to keep the film’s score as authentic as possible, Leave composer Jamie Christopherson did everything from hiring Norwegian string players to using a traditional Hardanger fiddle for some of the scenes. Jamie describes the film’s score as a “hybrid” and goes on to say, “By the end of the film, there are some genuinely dark gothic elements in the score and it enters into the realm of sound design before coming back to the emotional elements.” To learn more about Jamie’s work on the film, we conducted the below Q&A. 

Jamie Christopherson Leave

Leave is now available on Shudder.

Dread Central: What did pre-production look like for you on Leave?

Jamie Christopherson: I came onto Leave as the music composer well into post-production, with only a limited time to complete the score. While this may seem like a challenging thing, I often thrive on deadlines and other constraints. After a brief experimentation phase, I landed on a very clear vision of what I wanted to the score to sound like, and thankfully the director/producers loved my approach. 

DC: When you first met with director Alex Herron, what did he convey that he wanted the score to sound like?

JC: Alex was very encouraging for me to experiment with the sound of the score and with eccentric sounds, which I did. However, some previous scores that he mentioned he liked informed me that he was a fan of melody and traditional horror/thriller atmospheric moods. So I came up with a bit of a hybrid score for the film. Horror/thriller films are so great in that they allow such freedom and variety in styles, often blending many things together.

DC: How would you say your Leave score is different from other horror film scores that have been recently released?

JC: First of all, while Leave has some real horror elements, I would consider it to be more of a Nordic supernatural thriller/dark family drama. It is a slow-burn film, and the heart of the story revolves around an adopted young woman trying to find out about her past family history. Accordingly, my score is structured around that, with things ramping up the further we go into the film while trying to keep the girl’s inner emotions present. By the end of the film, there are some genuinely dark gothic elements in the score and it enters into the realm of sound design before coming back to the emotional elements. I think that melody and themes are lacking in many modern horror films, but I am a firm believer in the power of melody in my scores where appropriate. 

DC: Did you score Leave in chronological order or did you work on the more complex scenes first?

CA: I did indeed work on a few complex scenes for Leave first, because we felt they represented the heart of the film and/or would help define the sound of the rest of the soundtrack. I scored the climax of the film first. In that section, there are a lot of different emotional things to cover—suspense, horror, sentimentality/sadness, confusion, etc. Once I established the sound and melodic ideas of this complicated section, and a few related sections, I then went back to the beginning of the film and started making my way through the score.

DC: Were there any scenes that were particularly difficult to get the right sound?

CA: There is one scene near the beginning of the film where Hunter (the main character) is going off to college. While it is a short and seemingly simple scene, the director and I tried out multiple versions of the music before landing on just the right sound. It is sentimental, but we don’t want to be overbearing or foreshadowing at that point in the film.

DC: Did you use any “found objects” to create sounds for this score?

CA: One unique aspect that I used in the score was taking a Demonaz black metal LP record and reversing/warping it in a variety of ways for a few scenes. I wanted to have a little fun with the trope of playing a heavy metal record backward to find satanic phrases or sounds. The idea that heavy metal or rock corrupts young minds has been and remains to be present in our society for a long time. The score and the movie itself play with ideas of cultism/religion and heavy metal/sacred music. I also had a heavy metal guitarist experiment in a unique way to come up with unusual sounds for my score—not in a traditional distorted way but rather in an unusual and unsettling way.

DC: Because the film takes place in Norway, did that affect your approach at all? 

CA: With the film taking place in Norway, it definitely affected the way I approached the score. First of all, I worked with several Norwegian string players on the film (violin & cello). They lent a very Nordic quality to the music particularly because they are from the region. We even used a traditional Hardanger fiddle for a lot of the sounds, which gives a nice Nordic folk quality to it the score. I also was able to find a traditional Norwegian folk women’s choir to lend some religious phrases. I then took those and manipulated them/added disturbing textures around them for the climax of the film.

DC: You also composed the theme music for Hulu’s How I Caught My Killer. How different is it scoring a documentary series than a scripted one?

CA: For Hulu’s How I Caught My Killer, I wrote the original main theme for the show, and then they designed the titles around an edited version of that. It was a really fun project to work on, because I got to write a dark pop-influenced song and work with some amazing vocalists that I am friends with. I didn’t score the documentary series beyond that, but hopefully will get a chance to do that if there is a season 2!

DC: Have there been any recent horror films you have seen that have particularly stuck out to you?

CA: I am a huge fan of Blumhouse and Jason Blum’s approach to producing and distributing horror films. He really gives his directors a lot of freedom it seems, and supports the “small budget, big concept” films and filmmakers (as he has stated himself). I recently saw the Blumhouse film M3GAN and loved it. A great spin on the “creepy doll” genre, and it’s just really fun I thought.  I also really liked the film The Menu, with its dark satirical humor mixed with the horror genre. I’m a bit of a foodie and loved the concept and execution.

DC: Is there a specific director you would like to work with one day?

CA: I would absolutely love to work with one of the Blumhouse directors. I am a big fan of James Wan and the stories that he creates. Another director that I would absolutely love to work with is Ruben Östlund, who recently directed Triangle of Sadness. I think he is a brilliant director and absolutely love his inventive use of music in his films. I would love to work with a director like that who pushes me out of my comfort zones.



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