If you could experience the afterlife first hand, would you? That's the question audiences will be presented with at the end of this month, when Flatliners 2.0 — a retelling of the '90s classic — is unleashed nationwide. Starring Ellen Page, Nina Dobrev and Diego Luna, the story follows five medical students obsessed with expanding life's confines as they undergo a dangerous experiment: stopping their hearts for short periods to catch a glimpse of the other side.
Though hopefully none of us will ever experience such a ride — we've seen the original, we know how it goes — that's not to say we're not excited for the rush. And last week, Movie Pilot sat down with Nathan Barr, the composer responsible for creating those trepidation-inducing sounds that'll no doubt be delivered in force throughout the #Flatliners reboot.
Check out the trailer below:
Nominated for two Emmys and as infamous for his work with Eli Roth and on shows such as True Blood as he is for his bizarre collection of instruments — this dude owns a flute made out of a hollowed human femur, but more on that later — Nathan Barr has over the years cultivated a formidable presence within the horror industry. And we tried to figure out what makes him tick.
Movie Pilot: From the sound of the latest Flatliners trailer, you’ve focused the composition around clinical sounds — such as refibilalltor, and the flatlining “eeee” — alongside human breath. As you’re infamous for using unconventional instruments, I was wondering if you used any medicinal implements to bring the film's key themes to life on screen?
Nathan Barr: "I came onto this project very, very late to replace another composer, so it’s actually not my music in the trailer. I really had to hit the ground running; I had about three and a half weeks to write the entire score, which is over an hour of music. We literally just listened to the final playback last night, and in a funny way, even though I composed the entire score, it was if I was experiencing it for the first time because the process was so quick. It was just one of those jobs where I just had to write, record and move onto the next queue so fast; there was no time to think, and there was something fun about that — it’s been a really crazy ride!
"But no, I didn't use any clinical sounds or anything like that. I did get a new instrument recently though, which I used in the film. It’s called an Array Nail Organ and it’s basically a series of nails embedded into a piece of wood; it's a pick up so you can plug into your pre-amp and then record it."
MP: I’m picturing some sort of medieval torturing device.
NB: "Yeah it actually looks like that, it really does! It's full of different sized nails; the longer ones create a lower pitch and the shorter ones a higher. The nails have a very big round head and in order to play it you put rosin on your fingertips, rub the top of each nail, and they vibrate to make a sound. I used this technique quite a bit throughout the score to create one of the textures."
— For anyone curious, this is what an Array Nail Organ sounds like —
NB: "Overall it was an electronic score with orchestral elements; we even did a 40 piece string session in LA and that gives the music a cinematic fullness, which is what the movie needs and deserves."
MP: Did you draw inspiration from James Newton Howard's score in the original Flatliners, seeing as that was very orchestral?
NB: "I did not. I deliberately avoided watching that movie or listening to that score because I knew they wanted to do something different. Now that I’m done with it, I'll enjoy going back, re-watching and listening. But for this we really wanted to make it its own thing. And I’m happy with the result given the time crunch. The filmmaker (Niels Arden Oplev) is also very happy about it; so yeah, it feels like success!"
MP: What do you think of the movie itself? Do you feel like it's more of a sequel than a reboot, given Keifer Sutherland is returning?
NB: "I mean, yeah, almost. It definitely has that feel to it for sure and there are — without giving anything away — things happen within the movie that push it in that direction. I really love it; this take is fun and it's going to reintroduce the whole concept of the original to younger audiences today. It's a PG-13 film too, so it's definitely targeting a younger audience. The concept is so unique."
MP: Back to the Array Nail Organ for a minute, is that the oddest instrument you have? You own a human femur flute too, right?
NB: "Yeah, the femur is definitely the most odd and unusual, just based on what it is — but honestly, nobody can really get a sound out of it. It’s more ornamental. It does make a kind of wheezing breathy sound which I have recorded, but it doesn’t work as proper instrument. It was made in Tibet, or maybe Nepal; some monks have their bones made into relics when they pass away.
"I have all sorts of instruments that are bizarre and really hard to come by. I've been collecting my whole life. There’s nothing I love more than finding an instrument that I have never seen before, buying it and experimenting with it. It’s such an exciting part of the composing process for me. I'll find out about an instrument and then spend years keeping an eye out for one. For example, there’s an instrument called a Shaker Chime, made by Deagan back in 1901 — I just found a set after years of searching, and its unrestored and playable!"
MP: Cool! Have you bought anything else recently?
NB: "Actually, the most exciting one recently is a theater organ from 20th Century Fox Studios; it was on their scoring stage for 70 years and was used by everyone from Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, Vertigo) to Alex North (Ghost, Spartacus) to Jerry Goldsmith (The Omen, Alien, Poltergeist). I’ve basically spent the last six years planning and designing my new music studio around the organ. It has around 1,400 and something pipes, so it takes four men about two months to install it — it’s huge. It occupies six rooms!
"It’s a very exciting piece in film music history. I’m so excited to be crazy and obsessed enough to have gotten it completely restored and to give it a new home. I look forward to using it next year in my next collaboration with Eli Roth."
MP: The House with a Clock in Its Walls is Eli Roth's next project. Can you tell us anything about it?
NB: "I literally just came onto the project a couple of weeks ago so I don’t know that much about it either. I can tell you that it’s based on a book from 1973 by John Bellairs and illustrated by Edward Gorey; it was a popular series at the time. I’m just in the process of reading it myself — I love it so far. The movie's going to be a PG. It’s more of a young adult or children’s story than it is anything like Hostel, from what I understand."
MP: Wait, Eli Roth is doing a PG movie?
NB: "Yeah! It’s really exciting. It’s going to have Cate Blanchett and Jack Black in it — I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun to work on."
MP: What’s the vibe of the book like? Are we talking a Grimms-esque tale?
NB: "Well, I’m only on the start up section of the book but yeah, I guess something like that. It's gothic horror. Perhaps somewhere in between Grimms' and Harry Potter. I don't know yet.
"I am pretty sure that this movie will be very thematic, which is very exciting. And I know that Eli is excited about the theater organ. The great thing about the organ is that it's not a church organ — it's much more than that. There are a lot of other instruments in it — there's an actual piano; there are marimbas and xylophones and glockenspiels and cathedral chimes; all actual instruments played mechanically by the person sitting at the keyboard. It's going to blow the doors off what people think an organ is. Eli and I are very excited to re-introduce it to the world in the score for The House with a Clock in Its Walls."
MP: You’ve worked with Eli Roth on so many brilliant projects over the years. Do you have a favorite?
NB: "Eli and I really love working together because we just share that love of the horror genre. The first one — Cabin Fever — was really fun because we were both finding our voices and getting to do so together, and I think when Eli and I collaborate we come up with really interesting unique stuff. We just see things the same way in a lot of senses and inspire each other, and I’m excited by that.
"Really though, they’ve all been fun — Hostel, Hostel 2, and then the things he’s produced like Hemlock Grove and The Last Exorcism, they were fun shows to work on. He’s been a really great collaboration partner over the years."
MP: Where do you draw your inspiration from when working with Eli?
NB: "My inspiration oftentimes is my instruments; experimenting and finding sounds that live in that world and provide drama, and then running with it. And of course if the movie is good, which it always is with Eli, that’s very inspiring. Eli makes very cinematic horror films so it always feels like it's going to be a very big canvas and beautiful in a horrible way. I think that’s going to be the case again for the next one."
Well — color us hyped!
Flatliners hits theaters nationwide September 29th, are you ready to go under?