There’s Something In The Frozen Cold
January 4, 2023
It’s Not Just The Frost That Bites: Scoring Lovecraftian Horror in FREEZE: An Interview with Duncan Ritchie
by Randall D. Larson
From Dark Temple Motion Pictures comes FREEZE, the latest horror movie from director Charlie Steeds (THE BARGE PEOPLE). Starring Johnny Vivash, David Lenik, Ricardo Freitas, Jake Watkins, Rory Wilton, and Tim Cartwright, the Lovecraftian horror film follows a rescue mission to the North Pole, spearheaded by Captain Mortimer (Wilton) to retrieve an old friend and his lost expedition crew. But he gets more than he bargained for when his ship is frozen into the ice sheet and set upon by bloodthirsty fish-creatures. Mortimer and his surviving crew flee the ship, beginning a treacherous journey to find safety in a frozen, desolate wilderness. Suffering from starvation, frostbite, and a slow madness, they find shelter inside a snowy mountain, but… are they as safe as they think, or have they entered the heart of the creatures lair?
The film has been scored by photographer, digital artist, and musician Duncan Ritchie. Based in Australia, Duncan is known for contributing music to the horror film BLACK LAKE (2020), co-producing the talk-show TALKING THE ORVILLE (2022), and scoring the short film THE THING IN THE APARTMENT: CHAPTER II (2017; using his band name “Flowers for Bodysnatchers”).
“The arctic horror movie won the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival’s Best Film Award 2022, which gives it some legit Lovecraft cred,” wrote John Squires about FREEZE in an article for the Bloody Disgusting website.
Watch the FREEZE Trailer – Interview follows.
Q: You’ve been a photographer and digital artist for some time. Your futuristic art is quite provocative, displayed on your website. What prompted your taste for scoring films – especially films in the thriller and horror genre?
Duncan Ritchie: I’ve always been attracted to the darker side of the arts, whether it visual or musical. There’s a wonderfully gothic romance in this side of the industry. The darker side of art whether visual or musical is something you can really deep dive into, and the horror and thriller genres are steeped in atmosphere and imagination. It is quite literally a limitless playground.
Q: What is your background in music? How did you get started in this facet of your artistry?
Duncan Ritchie: We always had an upright piano in the house as a kid, so it all started there – although I never studied music at school or University. I did, though, study in the visual arts and have a Masters in Painting. Scoring films and creating my own music was something that slowly evolved over time and before I knew it I was surrounded by musical instruments and it had become “My thing.”
Q: I understand your first film composition was for the short 2017 film THE THING IN THE APARTMENT CHAPTER II. What can you tell us about creating a score for this picture?
Duncan Ritchie: Actually there are other short films before that. The Polish short film LAST SNOW (2011) and EVERYBODY DIES IN UTAH (2012) along with others in there also, but THE THING IN THE APARTMENT, CHAPTER II seems to have garnished the most attention. I guess you can thank YouTube, John Ross (Director), and Crypt TV for the exposure there. This was a great film to score in the fact that it’s one continuous piece of music that rises and falls, which is unusual for a film score, even in a short film. John was a great director to work with and I appreciate his faith in working with someone half a world way. It’s certainly the highest production piece I’ve worked directly on which means integrating your work into other peoples work flow and time frames which is always a good challenge.
Q: You’re also credited with music on another genre feature film, BLACK LAKE, for director K. Pervaiz. What can you tell me about that assignment?
Duncan Ritchie: I actually didn’t do any original scoring for BLACK LAKE. Director K. Pervaiz approached me to use “Hearken Our Storm,” a piece of music from the Flowers for Bodysnatchers album “Love Like Blood.” I did some digging and I notice IMDB have me listed as a composer which is kind of correct in that this piece of music was used, but Burning Tapes scored that film, and gave it a great score!
Q: So you’ve recently scored FREEZE, for director Charlie Steeds. How did you become involved in this film and what were your initial intentions about what the score needed to be and do?
Duncan Ritchie: Charlie is actually a fan, which was cool to find out, so he approached me from that angle. As far as the approach to this film, it’s a period piece which suited my neoclassical style perfectly. The isolated atmosphere of a ship trapped in the ice flow of the Arctic Circle was spot on for lonely windswept pads and eerie piano and vocals.
Q: How did the film’s period setting as well as its Lovecraftian elements prompt your musical score?
Duncan Ritchie: Being a Lovecraftian tale allowed me to take some pieces of music out of the period setting and into the bizarre and electronic without it jarring with the films premise. It’s Lovecraft, so it’s allowed to get weird sometimes!
Q: Would you describe your score’s thematic and motific configuration and how you developed and interacted those elements across the arc of the story?
Duncan Ritchie: Environment played a huge part in the score. Each of the film’s three acts were split up nicely, with the first involving the ship becoming trapped in the ice, so there’s lots of creaking wooden string arrangements and reverberated sound. The second act was the crew traversing the frozen tundra, accompanied by lonely windswept sounds and haunting vocal arrangements. And lastly, seeking refuge in a cave from the elements led to low end drones and echoing piano and orchestration. It’s always enjoyable when the environment plays such a large part in the approach you take to a score.
Q: What kind of electronics, unusual, and/or acoustic instruments did you employ in creating the FREEZE score?
Duncan Ritchie: I use a lot of field recording in my music. I live at the beach, believe it or not, so I used a lot of late night ocean breeze field recordings to subtly underpin certain parts of the score. There’s also lots of forest recording of trees bending and buckling in the wind which were great to use in the first act when the ship becomes icebound in the Arctic freeze. Besides that, I’m an avid Native Instruments user for the electronic side of things. There’s hardly a VST [Virtual Studio Technology] I don’t have.
Q: What would you like to be doing, in film music, in the next four or five years?
Duncan Ritchie: Time is always the biggest challenge. When you’re composing your own music, you have all the time in the world and the ideas can flow freely without pressure. Films, though, have budgets and time frames, etc. to work in, so you need to be able to switch your way of working to someone else’s way, and it can at times be frustrating but, that’s a part of the challenge. And when you push yourself you can do some amazing work you otherwise wouldn’t have done. As far as the future I’d be happy continuing to do things as I am now. Maybe a couple of larger projects now and then. I’m under no illusion, I’m not a Hans Zimmer!
My thanks to Duncan Ritchie for taking time out to discuss his film music with me!
For more information on the composer/artist and view a gallery of his artwork, see Ritchie’s website at https://duncanritchie.format.com/ – and check out Ritchie’s bandcamp page for his band Flowers for Bodysnatchers.
This interview was very lightly edited for clarification.