It’s very normal for kids to behave badly, but in Eskil Vogt’s new film, The Innocents, the kids take it to a new level. The official IFC Midnight description reads: The Innocents follows four children who become friends during the summer holidays. Out of sight of the adults, they discover they have hidden powers. While exploring their newfound abilities in the nearby forests and playgrounds, their innocent play takes a dark turn and strange things begin to happen.
There are many aspects of The Innocents that stand out: The children’s performances and the mesmerizing cinematography by Sturla Brandth Grøvlen being two of them. Another detail worth paying attention to is the provoking score by composer Pessi Levanto. Levanto does a great job of bringing the underlying uneasiness and dread to the surface with his compositions. We spoke to him more about this below.
Wicked Horror: You are located in Finland. Do you think that your musical sound is a lot different, than say composers in the U.S.?
Pessi Levanto: Of course it’s very hard to evaluate myself, plus U.S. composers are not a homogenous bunch themselves but I would be surprised if something from the local mindset wouldn’t translate to my music. Finns in general are calm and composed, there’s lots of nature, lakes and space around us so it’s bound to leave a mark.
Wicked Horror: Did it take you a long time to land on the specific musical palate of sounds for The Innocents? What was that process like?
Pessi Levanto: It did take a little while. Especially as the music we were after was very ”sound-based”, meaning that the quality and tone of the sound itself is very important. So that was not something I could demo with samples – it had to be recorded for real right away. So the preparation before we had something to even try in the edit took quite some time and I took a bit of a gamble by burning a big chunk of the budget early on on these recordings. I had to trust my gut and luckily my instinct had been right.
Wicked Horror: The film is getting a lot of praise from critics and audiences. With Stephen King calling it “sinister and completely absorbing”. When you initially read the script, did you instantaneously know it was going to be a hit?
Pessi Levanto: When I read the script I had the instant realization that ”Aha! So THIS is what a good script is like.” Not to downplay my earlier projects, but it was clearly on another level. I felt I could picture the whole thing before my eyes as I was reading it and after the first read-through I was ready to do whatever it took to land the gig.
Wicked Horror: What is your position on jump scares when it comes to the music in The Innocents? Are you on the stance of less is more?
Pessi Levanto: There are not that many jump scares in the film. Rather than quick bursts of tension and release it’s a slow-burn intense psychological tension pretty much all the way through. So it’s an overall feeling of unease and creepiness which lingers under everything. Of course the tension escalates every once in a while but there’s zero relief.
Wicked Horror: What were the notes Eskil Vogt (the director) had about how he wanted the score to sound?
Pessi Levanto: In our early talks, Eskil sent me a playlist of the music he had listened to while writing the script which gave a very useful general roadmap as to how he imagined the musical world to be. But other than that, he was open to my suggestions and we did try a lot of things, many of which were discarded. I think I made about five hours worth of demos for Eskil and Jens Christian (the editor) to play around with in the edit.
Wicked Horror: Did you watch any horror films to get inspiration before beginning work on The Innocents?
Pessi Levanto: Not really, to be honest. We didn’t want a traditional slasher-horror -type of score anyway and I couldn’t think of any relevant references. Scandinavian art-house horror is not really an established genre so I felt we were treading in new territory, so to speak. But maybe it was a good thing not to be influenced by anything too specific.
Wicked Horror: We often hear of composers using “found instruments” to create unique sounds for their film or tv scores. Did you use anything out of the ordinary like that?
Pessi Levanto: I think using real orchestral instrument recordings and mangling them has become my ”thing” in my recent scores. So in that sense they were found sounds meaning that the score is built like a collage from the recordings for the most part. But the core of the score comes from the string orchestra recordings plus recordings I made with an experimental drummer Mika Kallio who used a large variety of bells and gongs. I have made my recordings into self-built instruments with quite advanced algorithms, though.
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Wicked Horror: Is there a scene in the film where you would like people to pay extra attention to the music?
Pessi Levanto: You can hear how the little gongs appear around the character Ben as he is using his special powers. And when Anna uses hers there’s a glassy sound. We didn’t really have melodies for the characters but sounds. That could be interesting to pay attention to.
Wicked Horror: Did you learn anything working with Eskil?
Pessi Levanto: Absolutely. I understood how fruitful and artistically rewarding it is if music is made along with the editing process so that the edit and music can influence each other. Rather than the film being cut to some other music and then the composer stepping in afterwards.
This experience also reaffirmed that when there’s a strong artistic vision and motivated professionals capable of working towards it, film-making can be pretty damn awesome!