Robert Ouyang Rusli’s unsettling score brings Problemista to life

“Yeah, I played that for a friend who stopped by when I was working on it,” they say. “So I was like, ‘What do you think?’ And she goes, ‘It sounds like the soundtrack to Hereditary.’”

It’s not often you come across a surrealist comedy about a toy designer from El Salvador who makes sexting Cabbage Patch Kids feel reminiscent of a horror film that invented telephone pole trauma. But with an eccentric plot and a cast of melancholic characters this unhinged, Rusli says it was natural to come up with an imaginative score of 53 tracks that run the gamut from enigmatic to euphoric to otherworldly.

Rusli is classically trained in 18th century Romantic-era composition and takes inspiration from rappers like A$AP Rocky, Spaceghostpurrp, and they’re a longtime admirer of sample-based production by Flying Lotus and Tyler the Creator. But what really informed the score of Problemista was their love of experimental ambient minimalists like William Basinski and John Cage, who realized that not all forms of repetition are the same.

“What I loved about this film was knowing I was allowed to go there, so I just had such amazing time writing these melodies and letting them soar in certain places and loop in others… combining all these disparate sounds,” Rusli says.

Adding that they’ve always wanted to create something as “strange” and wonderfully weird as Problemista, Rusli explained that Torres’ off-beat brand of comedy meant it “lent itself to being versatile,” so getting experimental “works with Problemista and [Torres’] direction, because in certain situations those sounds could be really corny.”

“In combination with how I was reading the script, I was like, ‘Oh my god. I have to do this,’” they said.