What would happen if one day you discovered you had special powers? This is the premise of IFC Midnight’s new film The Innocents, written and directed by Eskil Vogt. The official 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. Adding to the chilling tale is the score by Pessi Levanto, for which he describes as beautiful, curious and threatening. We spoke exclusively to Pessi below and had him walk us through The Innocents compositional process. You can also watch this ‘Making Of’ video with Pessi:
How did you first become involved with The Innocents?
The film is a co-production between four Nordic countries Norway being the main producer. I was called in by our Finnish producer, Mark Lwoff, with whom I have a long working relationship. Mark had suggested that Finland’s portion would be music, special FX make-up and foleys. Then he introduced me to Eskil to see if we would match at all. Initially after listening to some of my earlier stuff Eskil didn’t feel I was the right guy, as they sounded too ”Hollywoodian” to his ears, but I made a custom demo to prove that that’s not all I can do and eventually won him over.
What initially attracted you to the script?
When I read the script, I got a sense very quickly that this is not your ordinary film. It clearly wasn’t pure horror, but not pure drama either and I didn’t quite know where to place it, so to speak. Naturally this was very intriguing at the same time, which gave a strong feeling that we’re on to something special here.
How would you describe the sound of the film?
The film is a real slow-burn and doesn’t have a lot of quick physical action. It’s all very psychological and subconscious. But there’s an underlying dread and unease pretty much throughout. The sound we were after is simultaneously beautiful, curious and threatening.
Did the director, Eskil Vogt, have a very specific idea of how he wanted the score to sound, or did he give you more freedom to experiment?
He gave me a lot of freedom. After our initial discussions I got a general idea what kind of overall feel he was after (not ”Hollywoodian,” obviously) and sent me a playlist of music he had listened to while writing the script. This gave me a general direction. But the rest was me experimenting. I did string orchestra recordings very early on and mangled those in various ways and built most of the score from that. I think I submitted about five hours worth of demos to Eskil and Jens Christian (the editor) to experiment with during the edit.
Your score album for the film has already been released. Do you have a favorite track on there?
I like the opening and ending -tracks most as they contain my favourite sound in the score: a big tape-loop style mass of sound made out of the string recordings.
What was the most difficult scene for you to score? Why was it hard?
The one which took the most time and revisions with Eskil was when the characters Ida and Ben go to the forest to play in the early part of the film. The challenge was to capture the playful curiosity and wonder. Everything I did at first seemed rather banal and cartoonish. But I hope we found it at the end! All the spooky stuff was much easier to do.
What would you say is your “go to” instrument?
My personal go to instrument is the piano as I’m originally a jazz pianist. Played gigs all the way until my late twenties before I got fully into film composing. But with this score I didn’t really write with the piano as it’s mostly sound-based, not really utilizing harmonic progressions or a lot of melodic themes. So for this score I’d say the studio was the main instrument!
The Innocents is classified as both a drama and horror film. Horror films tend to have pretty distinct scores. Because it is a drama too, how did you approach the score?
Very early on Eskil and I decided that we will not do a horror film score in the traditional sense. There are kids with psychic powers, but to do an Elm Street-style spooky nursery rhyme or such really didn’t fit the stylized Nordic art-house world of this film. Neither did melodic character themes. So we set out to do a drama film which utilizes genre film elements at places. Very subtle and nuanced, but carrying a consistent overall feel which, I hope, brings structural coherence to the whole.
Is there a film you have recently watched where the score has particularly stuck out to you?
Of major films I liked the Power of the Dog score by Johnny Greenwood. All in all, during recent years I’ve become more attracted to experimental and weird rather than mainstream in my own scores and overall taste.
What are you working on next?
I just finished a Danish film, a psychological thriller, called Superposition by first-time director Karoline Lyngbye, which will be out later this fall. Now I’m working on an another Norwegian film called Let the River Flow!, directed by Ole Giaever, which is a story based on real-life events around the uprising of the indigenous Sámi people in Lapland in late 70’s.
Many thanks to Pessi Levanto for taking the time for this interview.
The Innocents stars Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Sam Ashraf, Ellen Dorrit Pedersen, Morten Svartveit, Kadra Yusuf, and Lisa Tønne. The Innocents opens in select theaters and VOD on May 13th, 2022. Pessi’s The Innocents original score album is also available digitally.