Casey Cooper makes peace with dissonance on score for new horror film 'Night's End'

Through instrumental project CoastalDives, the local musician again partnered with filmmaker (and Columbus native) Jennifer Reeder on a thriller debuting on Shudder Thursday, March 31

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Casey Cooper of CoastalDives

In the last several years, local musician Casey Cooper has become a go-to composer for filmmaker and Columbus native Jennifer Reeder, who collaborated with Cooper’s CoastalDives project on a handful of short films, including “All Small Bodies” in 2017 and “The Dunes” in 2019.  

Last summer, Cooper got a call from Reeder about scoring a feature-length film, “Night’s End,” which stars Michael Shannon, Kate Arrington and Geno Walker; the thriller premiered in Chicago over the weekend and will debut on streaming service Shudder on Thursday, March 31. Cooper read the script, signed on to do the score and immediately began composing themes with suspenseful and eerie overtones.

“Jennifer knows my style, and she told me she trusted me and wanted me to just go for it and use my own intuition, my own taste, and do what felt and sounded right,” said Cooper, who also records and performs with brother Jesse Cooper in Columbus duo the Receiver. “For film, you don't need 50 different themes. You just need a handful of ones that you feel are strong, and then you manipulate them and change them around a little bit — change the texture, change the tempo — to set the scene so that there's a cohesive vibe all the way through.” 

Cooper sent Reeder some rough ideas while he waited to get his hands on the pandemic-borne, isolation-themed horror film, which follows a reclusive shut-in (Walker) who moves into a haunted apartment and hires a stranger to perform an exorcism. Once the movie arrived, Cooper tweaked and expanded his compositions to fit the scenes.

More:Locals: CoastalDives

While the music is unique to “Night’s End,” it’s also unmistakably a CoastalDives project. “It has my signature on it; it’s something that I would maybe compose on my own,” Cooper said. “But throughout the whole thing, I had to make sure I was adding dissonance. I was using a lot of analog synthesizers, but then I started to go a hybrid route [by adding] strings and orchestral sounds. There's always an underlying tension and discomfort. It might be subtle, but it's enough to make you think, ‘Something's off here. Something's not quite right.’” 

In addition to the delicate balance of beauty and dissonance, scoring a film involved the challenge of creating music that affects viewers without distracting from the movie. “You want to do something that's going to elevate the film, always, but you also need to stay out of the way at the same time, and it's a really, really thin line between the two,” Cooper said. “You want to do something that's inspiring, that moves the film along and impacts the scene, but you don't want it to distract from the scene. You're there to support.”

More:Coming of age again and again in Jennifer Reeder's 'Knives and Skin'

While Cooper has grown more accustomed to composing music that’s disquieting rather than hopeful, “Night’s End” gave him his biggest challenge yet. In a climactic scene toward the end of the movie, Cooper gave it a toned-down treatment, but Reeder had some notes.  

“She said, ‘I need something extremely sinister: dark, terror, death.’ She was throwing words at me like that. ... I don't normally compose with those adjectives in mind,” he said. “A lot of self-doubt was involved: Can I do this? Am I able to compose something like that? … I just had to go at it and get as scary and horrific as I could. That was the most stressful part of the whole process because I was up against a deadline, but looking back now, it's my favorite part of the whole score because it's unlike anything I've ever done before. It's complete craziness and chaos and terror.” 

While working on “Night’s End” and listening to more ambient drone music in the last few years, Cooper has noticed a shift in his compositions – one that he said will be evident in a forthcoming CoastalDives album. “It's not natural for me to make things that are ugly, but the more I worked on this film and the more I was pushing dissonance, I started coming around to it. There are some highly dissonant parts in this film that now sound really pretty to me,” he said. “It's sort of an acquired taste; you have to give it time to settle in your brain. Eventually, it turns around and ends up being what you're attracted to in a weird way.”