The Innocents Lyrical Enchantment with Composer Pessi Levanto

Interview with Composer Pessi Levanto on the Score for “The Innocents”

Heaven of Horror recently had the opportunity to speak with composer Pessi Levanto about IFC Midnight’s new horror film, The Innocents.

An Innocent Friendship Turns Dark

The Innocents tells the story of four children who become friends during their summer holidays. As they venture into the nearby forests and playgrounds, they discover hidden powers that they have never encountered before. The innocence of their play takes a dark turn as strange and unsettling events start to unfold.

Behind the Scenes of The Innocents

The film was written and directed by Eskil Vogt and features a talented cast including Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Sam Ashraf, Ellen Dorrit Pedersen, Morten Svartveit, Kadra Yusuf, and Lisa Tønne.

Composer Pessi Levanto on the Score

We asked Pessi Levanto to describe the score he created for the film. He explained that it has a whimsical and nostalgic quality, while also incorporating an ominous and creepy atmosphere. The intention was to evoke a sense of the lost world of childhood that we, as adults, can no longer access.

A Texture-Based Score

Pessi Levanto revealed that the score is primarily texture-based, meaning that it relies less on melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic elements. The main focus is on the sounds themselves and the textures they create, which contribute to the overall atmosphere of the film. The score maintains a constant presence, much like the midnight sun that casts an uncomfortable light, without overpowering the narrative.

A Subtle Main Theme

While discussing the main theme of the film, Levanto mentioned that it is only played during the opening and closing credits. They did consider incorporating it into other parts of the film, but ultimately decided against it. Using the main theme throughout the film would have lightened the tone and detracted from the realistic style they aimed to achieve. They wanted to create a gripping experience rather than turning it into mere entertainment.

Recording with an Orchestra

Pessi Levanto had the opportunity to record some of the sounds with an orchestra. They recorded with a group of session musicians in Helsinki at the renowned Finnvox studio. When asked about the menacing quality an orchestra can bring to a score, Levanto explained that scoring a horror film allows composers to explore the techniques of 20th-century classical music. By incorporating dissonant and jarring chords and textures, they can create a psychological unease and layer associations and meaning based on the viewers’ prior experiences.

Mysterious Gong-Like Sounds

Levanto was asked about the gong-type sounds that play when Ben, one of the characters, uses his magical powers. He revealed that these sounds were created by Finnish experimental drummer and percussionist Mika Kallio. Kallio assembled a set of gongs, consisting of around 25 small gongs, which were used to produce the distinctive sound in the film. Levanto had the opportunity to record Kallio for a day, capturing a wealth of useful material.

Experimenting with Sounds in Scandinavian Art-House Horror

Levanto explained that Scandinavian art-house horror is not a well-established genre, which allowed him to explore new territory while composing for The Innocents. Without the need to adhere to predefined rules, he felt liberated to experiment with different sounds and create a unique sound world for the film. This approach aligned with the current trend in film music, where achieving a distinctive and immersive auditory experience is a primary goal.

The Resonance of The Innocents

Despite being a film with gruesome scenes and a deliberate slow pace, The Innocents has resonated remarkably well with audiences, garnering a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Levanto attributed this success to the film’s ability to remind viewers of their own forgotten childhood memories. The exploration of morality during childhood, when the moral compass is still developing, struck a chord with many. Although we may not possess supernatural abilities like the characters in the film, there is something universal about the themes that resonates deeply within all of us.

A Childhood Fueling a Love for Horror

When asked about his own journey into the horror genre, Levanto shared that he grew up scared of everything, including horror films. However, as he entered his teenage years, his interest in horror grew as a form of compensation. The first real horror film that caught his attention was Friday the 13th Part VII, which he watched when he was 13 years old. This experience revealed the intriguing and charismatic nature of a well-crafted film villain.


Composer Pessi Levanto’s interview provides valuable insights into his score for The Innocents. With a focus on texture-based sounds, unique instruments like gongs, and the freedom to experiment offered by the Scandinavian art-house horror genre, Levanto created a score that perfectly complements the dark and unsettling atmosphere of the film. The resonance of The Innocents with audiences highlights the film’s exploration of morality during childhood and the memories it evokes from viewers’ own past. The success of the film serves as a testament to both the captivating storytelling and the immersive music that accompanies it.


1. How did composer Pessi Levanto create the distinctive atmosphere in the score for The Innocents?

Pessi Levanto employed a texture-based approach, focusing on the sounds themselves and the textures they created rather than relying heavily on melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic elements. This allowed him to establish an ominous and creepy atmosphere throughout the film.

2. Why was the main theme only played during the opening and closing credits of The Innocents?

The decision was made to maintain a consistent tone and avoid detracting from the realistic style of the film. Playing the main theme throughout would have lightened the overall tone and transformed it into a more entertaining experience, which was not the intended effect.

3. How did Pessi Levanto incorporate orchestral sounds into the score?

Levanto had the opportunity to record with an orchestra in Helsinki. By utilizing dissonant and jarring chords and textures, often associated with 20th-century classical music, he created a sense of unease and menace that complemented the visuals and enhanced the overall impact of the film.

4. What led to the success of The Innocents despite its gruesome scenes and slow pacing?

The film resonated with audiences by evoking memories from their own childhoods. The exploration of morality during the formative years struck a chord with many viewers, reminding them of their own experiences and reflecting on the complexities of human nature.

5. How did Levanto’s childhood experiences influence his love for horror?

Levanto was initially scared of horror films as a child, but as he grew older, his fascination with the genre intensified. Horror became a way to compensate for his initial fear, allowing him to appreciate the intriguing nature of charismatic film villains and the captivating storytelling that unfolds within the genre.