Composer Umberto Smerilli’s Magic Behind The Bunker Game

In a recent interview, composer Umberto Smerilli discussed the mesmerizing score he created for Shudder’s latest film, “The Bunker Game.” What initially captivated Smerilli about the script was its intriguing fusion of fiction and reality. The storyline follows a live role-playing game set in a bunker, where players immerse themselves in their assigned characters, creating a Chinese box structure. However, the narrative takes an unexpected turn, blurring the boundaries between different levels of existence. This oscillation between realities engenders a disorienting yet enchanting experience.

Setting the Tone: Inspired by Hereditary and The Witch

When determining the tonal direction for the score, Smerilli and the director took inspiration from acclaimed horror films like “Hereditary” by Ari Aster and “The Witch” by Robert Eggers. They were particularly drawn to the exceptional musical work by composers Colin Stetson and Mark Korven in these movies. With this in mind, Smerilli sought to recreate a similar atmospheric feel. In conceptualizing the score, he envisioned the bunker itself as a prominent character, exploring the timbre that could portray the dark, damp tunnels constructed from cold, unyielding concrete and rusted metals. Smerilli meticulously sought sounds that could convey the essence of darkness, inhospitality, and the labyrinthine depths reminiscent of the inner workings of a mountain.

To enhance the dramatic elements, the creative team also drew inspiration from the rich tradition of Italian Opera, specifically channeling the operatic fervor evident in Puccini’s compositions. By infusing the main scenes with an operatic breath, Smerilli aimed to establish a sense of grandeur and emotional intensity.

Distinct Themes for Main Characters

One of Smerilli’s approaches was to associate specific musical themes with pivotal moments or situations throughout the film. For instance, the “Desire” theme recurs whenever Laura and Greg find themselves alone, highlighting their cursed and inevitable passion rather than solely focusing on their individual characters. This theme carries a vintage vibe reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s work and plays into the ambiguity between the game’s reality and fiction. It serves as a symbolic musical costume, embodying the essence of these characters’ complex relationship.

The score further evolves in the initial part of the movie, where the music evokes the dystopian ambiance created within the game. With its references to 1950s cinema, the music pays homage to the cinematographic styles prevalent during that era. Additionally, specific tracks such as “Haunted Tunnels” supplement the bunker’s eerie atmosphere, extending the visual landscape into the realm of sound.

Certain characters also have their own musical motifs. “Clara’s Theme,” an operatic composition, delves into the deep drama surrounding Clara, a ghost tormented by profound loss. Overall, Smerilli’s methodology involves uncovering concealed concepts and ideas within the story, accentuating character traits or abstract situations. Leitmotifs, a recurring musical theme associated with a particular character or idea, play a pivotal role in the score, with six such motifs ingeniously interwoven throughout the movie.

Capturing the Essence: A Non-Linear Scoring Process

In contrast to a strictly chronological approach, Smerilli embarked on a non-linear journey while scoring “The Bunker Game.” The initial step involved identifying the key concepts he aimed to emphasize, prioritizing the main scenes accordingly. The creative team decided to commence scoring from the second half of the film, gradually working backward to the beginning. This peculiar maneuver allowed them to establish the core temperature, ensuring a distinct differentiation between the two halves. The non-linear structure of the scoring process posed no hindrance as it facilitated a seamless transition between different sections of the film.

An Unexpected Collaboration: Remixing with Bewider

Smerilli credits the incredible music producer, Piernicola di Muro (aka Bewider), for his remarkable contributions to the score. Di Muro delved deep into Smerilli’s music, comprehending its unique features and harnessing them to craft something truly extraordinary. As a result, Smerilli felt compelled to invite Di Muro to take the main themes and transform them into an original soundscape, infused with Di Muro’s distinctive style.

Challenges and Artistry – The A Capella Dilemma

One particularly challenging scene in terms of music composition was Clara’s a capella rendition of “Parlami d’Amore MariĆ¹.” At first glance, this scene may appear unremarkable, but it ventures into the mysterious and subliminal realm that film soundtracks occasionally inhabit. The intricacy arises when the music follows the actress’s performance on set, aligning itself with her timing. This task presented its own set of difficulties, but the harmonic transformation imparts an entirely new layer of meaning to this love song. By fusing the Italian 1920s classic with Clara’s theme, Smerilli establishes a profound connection between the two pieces, as if one music possesses the other, mirroring the possession of ghosts. This endeavor demanded exacting precision and artistic finesse.

An Electrifying Beat: Back to the Bunker

The track “Back to the Bunker” features a pulsating and intense beat, tailored to a pivotal turning point in the film. When Laura and her friends venture back into the bunker after a blackout, the horror story truly begins. In order to heighten the energy of this climactic moment, Smerilli deliberately infused the track with an electronic vibe, intensifying the overall impact.

A Fusion of Orchestral and Electronic Elements

An intriguing aspect of the score is the recurring violin-like sound that resonates throughout various tracks. To achieve this distinctive sound, Smerilli employed a string orchestra but artfully blended their performance with synthesizers and virtual instruments. Smerilli even directed the musicians to mimic electronic sounds, creating a hybrid sonic landscape that challenges the boundaries between acoustic and electronic realms. Harmonizing the orchestra with electronic elements, while simultaneously incorporating design elements to mimic strings, results in a cohesive yet mesmerizing auditory experience.

Unleashing Creativity: Experimental Aspects of Horror Film Scores

The realm of horror films inherently embraces experimentation, challenging composers to explore uncharted territories. Smerilli readily embraced this opportunity in “The Bunker Game” score, pushing the boundaries of traditional composition. The musical tapestry of the score abounds with unconventional instruments, particularly the inventive invention of the “Smerillophone.” Drawing upon his background as a free jazz saxophonist, Smerilli fused unconventional techniques borrowed from the saxophone world into this wind instrument, creating a unique timbre for the dark, resonating tunnels of the bunker. Transforming mundane objects into extraordinary musical tools became a cornerstone of this score. This wide range of avant-garde sounds and uncanny solutions showcases Smerilli’s unwavering dedication to innovation and boundless creativity.


Umberto Smerilli’s score for “The Bunker Game” showcases his immense talent and artistry as a composer. Carefully navigating the intricate dynamics of this enigmatic film, Smerilli captured the essence of the story through his musical craftsmanship. Drawing from varied inspirations, infusing each character and scene with distinct themes, and experimenting with a diverse range of instruments and sounds, Smerilli created an atmospheric and compelling score that seamlessly intertwines with the narrative. His willingness to embrace experimentation, coupled with his meticulous attention to detail, places Smerilli among the ranks of exceptional composers in the world of horror film scoring.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How did Umberto Smerilli approach the scoring process for “The Bunker Game”?

Smerilli adopted a non-linear approach, accentuating key scenes and concepts first. He then worked his way back from the second half of the movie to the beginning, ensuring a distinct differentiation between the two halves.

2. Were specific musical themes assigned to the main characters?

Yes, Smerilli assigned thematic motifs to various characters and pivotal situations. For example, Laura and Greg’s cursed passion is encapsulated in the “Desire” theme, while Clara’s haunting tale is accompanied by her own operatic theme.

3. How did the collaboration with Bewider come about?

Bewider, an exceptional music producer, thoroughly understood Smerilli’s music and was capable of innovatively transforming the main themes into his own unique style. This collaboration felt like a natural progression for both artists.

4. What challenges did Smerilli face while scoring the film?

One particularly challenging scene involved Clara’s a capella performance of “Parlami d’Amore MariĆ¹.” Harmonizing the music with the actress’s timing was no easy feat, but the resulting fusion of Italian classics with Clara’s theme created an extraordinary connection.

5. How did Smerilli create the distinctive sound of