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Nathan Halpern on the tension and tragedy of Native-led thriller Catch the Fair One

Welcome to Right on Cue, the podcast where we interview film, TV, and video game composers about the origins and nuances of their latest works, as well as select commentaries from some of the score’s most important tracks.

In the months since he came on the show last (for the COVID documentary In the Same Breath), composer Nathan Halpern has been extremely busy. Just a few weeks ago, he scored three films that premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival: the nail-biting thrillers Watcher and Emily the Criminal, as well as the documentary short The Martha Mitchell Effect. But this week, we’re talking about a film that premiered at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, one of the best, most under-discussed films of 2021: Josef Wladyka’s Catch the Fair One.

A pulse-pounding thriller with an activist heart, the film follows a Native American ex-boxer named Kaylee (played by real-life welterweight champion Kali Reis, in an icily intense performance), who pours every inch of herself into trying to track down the people responsible for her younger sister’s disappearance. The issue of Native erasure is nothing new, and one that Wladyka and Reis (who collaborated with him on the story) took extremely seriously. 

Catch the Fair One works like gangbusters as a cold, uncompromising action thriller, to be sure, but it also carries the dehumanizing weight of the past — a woman sacrificing everything human about her to right a wrong that further Others people like her. 

Gliding effortlessly along Wladyka’s anguished brutality is Halpern’s score, bringing his signature love of drones and tones to the film’s atmosphere. Like the ice-blue cinematography and underplayed intensity of its lead, Halpern’s work immerses us in the cruelty of Kaylee’s world through haunting, hollow electronic sounds and lonely solo brass. Rumbling bass and screeching static punctuate the moments when Kaylee is most put through her paces, leavening only to remind us of the bleak tragedy of her journey. 

Joining us again on the pod, Nathan talks about how he maintains such a prolific workflow, honoring the Native cultural markers of the story, and worming his way into the psychology of a protagonist that has nothing to lose. (You can also hear commentaries of select tracks from the score.)

You can find Nathan Halpern at his official website here.

Catch the Fair One is currently playing in select theaters and on VOD. You can also listen to the score for Catch the Fair One on your preferred music streaming service courtesy of Lakeshore Records.

CategoriesRight on Cue