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Hearing the Horror of Sunspot: Ghassan Abdel Nour

Photo Courtesy of Ester Key

Perhaps more than any genre, the music of a horror film is as identifiable as the story itself. Halloween, The Exorcist, Jaws; the Pavlovian effect of these musical fingerprints is undeniable. Filmmakers comprehend the gravitas of this type of composition and the necessity to ideally capture the recordings. There’s as much depth in the process of creating and capturing this music as in any of the frightening and iconic horror tales in the history of film itself. The creative producers of Sunspot took the music of their film very seriously, enlisting some of the most talented in the field to realize the optimal version of it.

Some of the most terrifying movies are those which investigate how our minds work during a crisis. At a vulnerable time, we begin to question our own sense of reality; it’s this psychological free-fall that allows almost anything to be possible. Of course, the possibility that reality might actually be a ruse is equally terrifying. Sunspot is the story of a young woman in just such a position. This protagonist is seen trying to come to terms with losing her parents when a mysterious figure begins appearing in the shadows, visible to her only. Though the fear is overwhelming, she considers that facing it may be the only way to end her torment.

Sara Maraffino, Alex Elliott, Michael Cooke (of the Oscar Nominated film Mullholland Dr. and Now You See Me 2), are among the cast who shrewdly underplays the energy of the characters, which serves to enhance the vagueness between fear and paranoia of this film. Director Anthony De Las Alas has created an aura which places the audience in the same confused state of mind as that of the main character. Is there really a demon chasing her or has her mind manufactured one as a result of what she is experiencing? The shadowy figure chasing her may be a metaphor for her inability to let go of those she held dear…or it may be an evil minion sent to dispatch her.

The music of Sunspot is the emotional wardrobe of its main character; mournful and melancholy yet not without hints to a potentially positive release. With the exception of the song heard in the ending credits, the instrumentation is minimalistic and comprised mostly of simple piano notes, stabs, and tones which illustrate the mood of the scene; primarily where it was frightening, hopeful, or sad. Sound engineer Ghassan Abdel Nour was the professional who took the Spartan yet transfixing compositions of Joshua Whiting and Robert E Lee kneaded them into the earwigs they finally became. There’s most certainly an art to making these musical moments become emotional touchstones for the audience and Ghassan is a master of this. He relates, “There are many potential decisions that can either complement a film or work against its artistic goal. For example, for the song in the credits, a decision was made after multiple trial and errors that the guitar portion would be played in an arpeggiated finger style of picking. Even though you can easily strum the same chords, which is much less of a hassle, it wouldn’t have the same impact. The piano music had to be sad but not necessarily dark. It should suggest something uplifting that eventually occurs, and that wouldn’t work it if it was processed in a way that would give it a dark tone. The proper equalization and effects have to be implemented to conjure up the desired mood.”

Vetting the notion that a balance of story, performances, and music combined by exceptional talent attract admirers, Sunspot has gained a cult following. The industry has taken note as well, awarding the film with Best Horror Short Film at the Hollywood Reel Independent Short Film Festival. Sunspot will cause you to question how grief can affect the human spirit…and whether spirits tread among us.

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