Malum’s score from Samuel Laflamme is its biggest departure from 2014’s Last Shift
In 2014, a small cult horror film—literally about a cult but also well deserving of “cult cinema” status–was released under the title Last Shift. The plot centered on a rookie police officer who volunteers to oversee the final night at a police station that’s being decommissioned. As she waits in the (mostly) abandoned station for a cleaning/transport crew to arrive, things begin to go from weird, to bad, to a living hellscape with no escape, as a Manson-esque cult and sinister ethereal forces begin to unweave the rookie’s mind and unleash buried trauma from her past.
Last Shift was—and remains—perfect for what it is. When I think of great indie horror from the last decade, especially in that range of “thing you flipped on because Shudder had it and it turned out to be a lot better than the poster looked,” there’s little here that I could criticize. It’s very good at what it does, within its constraints, and it is exactly what it wants to be.
I was caught off-guard when the press release hit my inbox that the movie was getting a remake.
Today, on VOD, you can catch Malum: the story of a rookie police officer serving the final shift at a decommissioning police station where things go from weird, to bad, to a living hellscape with no escape. The creative team from the original film is… almost identical to the creative team from this one, from the director on down. My initial thought was that this must be something akin to Evil Dead 2, where the original team suddenly had actual money and a better grasp on tone and wanted to remake their original idea as something of a much, much larger scale.
Press materials for Malum describe it as a reimagination that “flips the original on its head.” Dear reader, I was… not skeptical but certainly curious.
Malum doesn’t go the aforementioned Evil Dead 2 route. This is not bigger, more, faster, harder. It’s a recreation that’s almost surrendered to the original. It haunts the same halls and in the same way, if only with a much steadier hand because the filmmakers know they’ve pulled it off once before. Helmed by director Anthony DiBlasi (Last Shift, Dread, Extremity) and co-written by DiBlasi and Scott Poiley (Last Shift, Missionary, Exhume), the film is perhaps most notable in the modern history of cinema for the situation it presents for one man on the production team alone.
Samuel Laflamme is a composer who has strengthened projects across the film, television and video game worlds. He has collaborated with many of the top video game companies in the industry, including Ubisoft, Activision, and Red Barrels where he worked on the critically acclaimed survival horror-game Outlast. Samuel’s other credits include French Canadian dramatic comedy series Le Chalet and the 2016 Canadian-American co-production, fantasy film Wait Till Helen Comes, based on Mary Downing Hahn’s best-selling novel from the 1980’s.
Laflamme is also the only major creative head on the project that shifts between the original and the re-imagining. So, watching the two films back to back, with the story and acting and general delivery hitting so many of the same notes, it’s fascinating to see how Laflamme’s score on Malum presents the biggest creative risk, and boy does it pay off.
We sat down with Laflamme over Zoom to discuss horror scores, remaking a film you haven’t seen, and the joy of living in creative solitude. The pre-sale for Laflamme’s soundtrack on vinyl is live over at Waxwork Records.
The Pitch: How did the creative team from Last Shift approach you about re-imagining their own film?
Samuel Laflamme: Well, the first rule was that I wasn’t allowed to see the original film. I never watched it. Director Anthony DiBlasi insisted I never see it and never let myself be influenced by it. Despite what I’ve explored in the Outlast series, I’m not really a horror fan. That was a running joke with Red Barrels [developers of Outlast] because they wanted to know if I was a gamer, and I wasn’t, and if I like horror films, and I don’t, so I was bringing an outsider approach to all of this—I certainly wasn’t the person you’re normally looking for.
So while I’m not the biggest horror fan, I am a movie fan. I didn’t need to understand how every part of this phantom world works. Whatever the medium, if you’re going to start an experiment and you’ve got me involved from the beginning, I will have something to say. I never want to repeat myself or do something that has been made before. New ideas are important to me, especially since I see my job less as a storyteller and as more of an emotional narrator.
With horror, I think it’s important to consider how much information the score gives the audience. You want to hand them just enough to let their imagination work, but there’s a balance. If you give them everything, there are no more surprises. Real substance comes from people trying to make connections in their minds, so I think of my work as managing the ingredients/elements and delivering them in the right order at the right pace.
In the past few years, I’ve been working on these big projects that come with a lot of assistance. These were more collective creative experiences, but I felt this pull to get back into the kind of fun I was having as a teenager when I started to compose. It wasn’t all ‘intellectual’ with elements and theory. Outlast had some tributes to Danny Elfman, Bernard Herrmann, and other heroes I’d studied. But I wanted to go back to the freedom I experienced before I studied, so I sat down with just my piano. I was able to hammer out all these ideas, these tones and timbers, by becoming instinctive. I was able to ‘jam’ in real-time. The only concept I had for the movie when the guys approached me about it was, “What if it’s only me throughout the film, with no assistants or team or programmers?” They welcomed that vision, and Anthony really embraced the idea out of the gate. They pushed me to take risks.
They approached me before shooting the movie, which is incredibly rare. I got to read the script before shooting and create my own musical ideas. So I’d done recordings of my themes and musical ideas that the actors could listen to on set while shooting the film, to help create the world from the start.
We’d wanted to ask you about that last bit there. A press release mentioned that the creative team on the film started working with you before the film even shot, and that’s a talking point we see from time to time, that isn’t always… the most accurate, or important thing. What did you experience here that you found to be an original approach?
Right, so the actress Jessica Sula could listen to my work around the days they were shooting, and my tracks were sometimes included on the “dailies” with the raw footage from the shoot.
By the nature of being in Montreal, were you able to talk to the directors and actors during the shoot?
Yeah, for sure this all made this much different than when I’m brought in to, say, provide music for a locked picture. I love to work with way with other clients, but this is the first time I’ve done this with horror. The creative process is not linear, and that opens many doors. If you’re working by yourself, I could like deliver a theme for a movie within a few minutes, in terms of a how it will be used or placed within a story. It can take months to master a world. Reading the script was a first step, and I took a week to digest it before getting back to them. As opposed to work in other genres of film, a horror mystery like this requires a lot more conceptualizing. I thought that working with my childhood piano and my synthesizers would bring this score very close to me, and I wanted to master the strongest possible sense of what’s happening every moment in this story.
For what I recorded, there’s a lot of songs where there’s no tempo map. Piano parts here are absolutely without metronome clicks to keep me in line, and that gave me the freedom I’d come here in search of.
So there was a deliberate choice not to use click tracks so the score could be more human and unpredictable in its pacing. Was that to keep its audience on its toes—unsure what might come next both on screen and also from the screen?
Yes, it’s a very tonal score. The proper project was here to make something with flexibility for me to decide how to much or how little to punch. It was a perfect playground for experimenting.
Was there a weird amount of pressure for this? It seems like a hyper-specific situation where a film is being re-imagined a decade after release and you’re one of the only major creative name changes on the credits. That feels like it must come with pressure.
Restricting me from seeing Last Shift was the right call. It was a protective call, to keep me naive and pure, and without all the stress. There was of course the song that remains important to the plot that we kept between the movies, but we talked about things in waves of a process that changed and grew alongside the project in a natural way.
So to distill what you said at the start of this: as somebody who feels like they’re sort of an outsider to horror, would you say that your approach to what you’ve done here—and in Outlast—your idea of how to make music scary is to be withholding with information?
There is an awareness of what to expose and what not to expose. I try to think not just about what state information is in, but how the audience’s imagination is reckoning with it. Thinking back on Malum, a lot of science I think I might have given a faster pace to, but… So have you ever seen the original trailer for Alien? There’s some score they used in that which doesn’t exist in Jerry Goldsmith’s score, and then in 2012’s Prometheus they used it again. It has this lo-fi quality to it, perhaps from tape and distortions. So in Malum I did these clusters where it would sound like maybe there was a human scream, maybe it was happening in the world or it was just in the song, but you can’t really tell? Music is a useful tool for sense memory, and you can use that to disorient, to scare people.
Malum is available on VOD now. Laflamme’s soundtrack on vinyl is live over at Waxwork Records.