The new psychosexual thriller Fatal Affair is now streaming on Netflix. Starring Nia Long and Omar Epps, the film revolves around a successful lawyer named Ellie with recent strains in her marriage who finds herself in too deep when she runs into an old friend, David. Buried feelings resurface, sparking the beginning of an almost affair that Ellie quickly puts a stop to. However, David is much more dangerous and persistent than he appears.
The one responsible for the film’s tense score is composer Matthew Janszen. He has worked on over 30 films including the SyFy horror originals The Sandman, Ominous, Cucuy: The Boogyman, and Finders Keepers. Janszen has also contributed music for the television series Be Cool Scooby-Doo and Law and Order: SVU. Here is my interview with him.
Haunted MTL: How did you get involved with the film Fatal Affair? What was appealing about it?
Matthew Janszen: The director, Peter Sullivan, reached out to me while he was shooting and asked if I would like to be involved. I’ve worked with Peter on over 20 films and it’s always a fun and collaborative experience! He talked with me about the story and I think what appealed to me the most was the relationship between Ellie (Nia Long) and David (Omar Epps). Some thrillers reveal the danger very quickly and is about that heightened conflict. This film slowly reveals the danger, which I thought was going to be challenging to score, particularly in relation to David’s mental state. In the earlier parts of the movie I had to make sure to not tip the scales too much towards danger, but instead, just make it gradually uncomfortable.
How did you prepare for this project? In what ways did you work on connecting with the story and characters, for instance, did you research other Fatal Attraction-esque films to better understand such a psychosexual cat and mouse dynamic?
After an initial discussion with the director, I typically prepare for a project by experimenting with new sounds and thematic ideas. I put these ideas up against the picture to see what’s working. I typically don’t research other films of similar genre because I don’t want my creativity to be influenced by something that’s already been done. My goal is always to create something original to the project I’m working on. I let the story tell me what it needs as I explore its components.
You’ve worked with director Peter Sullivan before. Did this give you more freedom when composing for the film? Free to experiment with sound and rhythm.
Peter and I have a pretty good shorthand when working together, and there is a certain level of trust. After our initial conversations, he’s always really gracious in giving me the freedom to explore the film musically. Just like any good director, if I go too far off the path, he’ll steer me back in the right direction while still letting me express my ideas.
Speaking of rhythm, this is a very unique score and I’ve listened to your other work and I’ve noticed a type of rhythmic pulse that often occurs. What I call metallic heartbeats. You also have a background in studying mathematics and its relation to music, acoustical engineering. I just find all that very interesting, can you expand on that?
I’ve always been fascinated by the connection between math and music! I’ve played piano my whole life and math has always been one of my strongest subjects, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I still have a strong analytical side to my brain, and I think that’s why film composing interests me. When you write music for a film you have to figure out the best tempo and musical structure that is going to allow you to accent and address what’s needed in the story. That always requires a little bit of analysis before you can dive right in with the creativity. Not to mention the technical side of what we do with computers, synthesis, and sample libraries. To fully understand all of these components of the job, having a mathematical mind has definitely helped me. When I was studying engineering, the core of the studies is all about solving problems and I feel like I do that every day as a film composer. Whether I’m trying to piece together the puzzle of the score or explore new ways to create sounds and musical ideas with the technology at hand.
Thriller and horror, though subgenres, are very different when it comes to music. Horror relies more heavily on an obvious tension, but thriller usually contains a quieter sound that creeps in from the background. How did you create this type of tension?
The most direct way to create musical tension is through dissonance. Usually, in a horror film, you can be very direct with that idea. But with Fatal Affair, I had to restrain myself, so my goal in most of the cues is the slowly evolve the cue over time. I utilized synth sounds that gradually became more and more dissonant. I also added subtle rhythms to the cues over time. The cue would start stationary but then by the end have a pulsing heartbeat as the stakes were raised.
Describe the score in relation to Ellie’s mindset, if you can.
Ellie was brilliantly played by Nia Long and it’s always exciting to score scenes where the actor is spot on. The score, in the beginning, is more melancholy reflecting Ellie’s relationship with her husband Marcus (Stephen Bishop). Once David enters the picture, it starts harmless but overtime my goal was to support the fact that Ellie was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the situation. When the uncomfortable starts to feel dangerous, the score then reflects Ellie’s determination to investigate and hopefully put an end to the situation.
What’s your go-to instrument or preferred way to make music? Do you have a personal piece that you’re most proud of?
My preferred way of making music is at the piano. I’ve played piano since I was five, so I always feel at home in front of one. I’m am one of those tortured composers who always feel like they can improve, so it’s hard to be proud of a specific work. But if I had to choose, it would be some of the solo piano works I composed at the very beginning of my career. Those pieces, while rough, represent me taking the risk of expressing myself musically, which eventually led to where I am today. So I’m proud of the fact that I didn’t give up and pushed through the initial challenges of understanding musical creativity.
Do you have any dream projects you wish to pursue someday down the line?
Oh, that’s easy, anything to do with Star Trek. I’m a big Star Trek nerd. I grew up on Next Generation and have been hooked ever since. Star Trek: Voyager is still one of my favorites to binge and I love the new stuff that’s come out with Picard and Discovery. Just give me a bottle of Chateau Picard and an episode of Star Trek and I’m in my happy place! Also, astronomy is a hobby of mine. If I’m not writing music, I’m looking up at the stars in amazement, and I think Star Trek just embodies that feeling of awe and exploration. To be able to capture that musically would be exciting
Overall, how would you describe your experience working on Fatal Affair? Were there many challenges?
The main challenge was to keep the show building in suspense without tipping the scale too fast. A lot of the revisions came from this idea, where we wanted to make sure we were finding that right balance to help the story progress. The other challenge was scoring David’s psychological unraveling. He seems okay at first, but there is a dark seed in him that continues to grow throughout this movie, and I needed to express that as well
Are there any upcoming projects that you can discuss?
A show I work on called Archibald’s Next Big Thing is still ongoing and I look forward to sharing more!
You can visit Matthew Janszen’s portfolio and website here.
Fatal Affair is currently streaming on Netflix.