Killers Within (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

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Things Are Not Always As They Scream: Scoring Killers Within

Liner notes by Randall D. Larson

Killers Within, the first feature film from the Irish writing-directorial team of Paul Bushe and Brian O’Neill, is a film that defies expectations, starting out as a crime thriller in which the son of Amanda, an Irish police officer, is kidnaped by a criminal gang in order to force her ex-husband to return cash he has stolen from them. To get their son back, the separated couple joins with three unlikely allies to rob a wealthy banker and his family of the money needed to pay the kidnapers. But the family they choose is not an ordinary family and the remote Irish mansion in which they live holds deathly secrets none of them could have foreseen.

When it came time to find a composer for their film’s music, the filmmakers’ search brought them to Jerome Leroy. “We knew early on in the script stage that we wanted a big epic score,” the directors said. “Our goal was not only to enhance the tension, horror, and emotion of the film but also to give it scale. We hadn’t worked with many composers before and this was our first feature film together.We put some ads looking for a composerand Jerome was one of the people who responded. We looked him up and were blown away by his list of credits.” To show what he could bring to their film, Leroy mocked-up music for two key scenes—one a scary tension scene, the other more epic in nature. “He nailed both straight away and extremely fast,” they said. “We knew we had to work with him!”

Killers Within dabs into a variety of genres: fantasy, horror, thriller, action… so it was key for Bushe and O’Neill to have a score that could evolve over the story’s course while blending all those genres into a cohesive whole. “We discussed creating some straight-up horror music, how far into electronic and percussive elements we might want to go for the action scenes, as well as the part of the film which borrows from heist movie tropes,” Leroy said. “But the main point of conversation, really, was what kind of musical atmosphere we wanted to create for the moments in the mansion—which is where a majority of the film takes place—and how we were going to sustain tension during those scenes.”

Leroy’s first tactic was developing a theme for the central character of Amanda, with whom the audience will likely sympathize the most. “My initial challenge was not just figuring out how to go seamlessly from an action/thriller film into a monster/fantasy film mid-way into the story, but also how to create a sense of overall identity for the film. Having a theme for Amanda and very subtly bringing it back at key moments in the score was key. At the end of the day, this is a story about a mother trying to save her son, and we really wanted that point to come across among (or in spite of) all the other elements in the film.”

Unusually for this composer, Leroy created a score that was fully electronic, with some contrasting hybrid pieces performed by a digital orchestra. The latter enriches the graceful melody of Amanda’s Theme in “Opening Titles” and the concluding “Epilogue,” while the motif becomes more mysterious and menacing in “Tiger Kidnapping.” By the time the protagonists develop “The Plan” to steal the cash needed to ransom Amanda’s son, Leroy has gone into heist-music mode with bed of percussively rhythmic electronica that maintains a steady forward motion to these scenes. The music for the robbery is a slowly-building swath of anxiety, until things suddenly go very awry with “There’s Someone Else,” which introduces layers of icy electronic pads that establish an increasing foreboding that will intensify as the gang realizes they are in the midst of something monstrous.

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The composer’s use of twisted, bending synth tonalities in “Seduction” and “Kill or Be Killed,” the latter exploding near the end in a terrific din of drums and brassy synths, begins to transform the film’s musical design once the captives are revealed to be something far from human. Leroy uses a digital choir to represent the ancient species, giving them a quasi-religious and modal sound, especially prevalent for the sacrificial scenes later in the film. From there, through “Cold Room,” and “The Stronger Species,” the severe dread the music has been perpetuating reaches the high action of “The Master is Back” and “Finishing This,” propelling the characters into desperate measures needed to survive.

Mindful of creating a score that had a cohesive whole, Brian and Paul asked Leroy to score scenes that appear later in the film, instead of writing the score sequentially. “Once we had identified a sonic palette that we all felt resonated with the later part of the story, the idea became to integrate some of those sounds into earlier sections so that the audience would not be completely disoriented or taken aback by the direction the story eventually takes,” Leroy explained. He was able to take advantage of modern digital audio and sample manipulation to find interesting ways of using similar sounds in very different settings. “For example a sample that might sound brooding and dark in one cue couldbe filtered to sound smoother and warmer in another cue,” he said.

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To accommodate the extremely varied palette necessary to follow the film’s shifting genres, Leroy utilized a phalanx of electronic and digital tools. “The score ended up calling for a huge amount of analog and digital synthesizers for ambiences and textures, processed strings and reversed percussions, old school keyboards like Rhodes and Hammond organ, electronic pianos, layered acoustic and electronic bass to add rhythm and tension, EQ’ed digital pulses, and a wide array of risers, hits, and percussive sweeps,” he explained. “All of this backed, when necessary, with more traditional orchestral groups like string pads, brass effects, and processed woodwinds.”

“Looking at the completed film we are so proud of the score Jerome composed,” said Paul and Brian. “Honestly we think it is right up there with the best of its kind. Ours was a smaller budget film but the score makes it feel massive. It enhances every scene without taking over. It punctuates perfectly and provides emotion and weight to scenes. We had an amazing cast and crew on this film and the score really manages to blend in perfectly with their work, even enhancing it, to bring everything to the highest level possible.”

— Randall D. Larson

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Having to create a score that could change on a dime without feeling disorienting to the audience was the key challenge in scoring Killers Within. We start with what looks like a fairly typical action story that moves into the heist film genre territory, eventually goes into horror, and fully settles into sci-fi/fantasy, to finally end up back in the action genre! The filmmakers and I agreed that while the music should fit those scenes, it should also help with creating the necessary ‘glue’ to hold everything together.
— Jerome Leroy
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Credits

Music Composed and Produced by Jerome Leroy

Additional Music: Alex Williamson

Additional Music & Programming: Victor Kong

Mixed at Visual Sounds & Music, Los Angeles

Mastered by Robert Kleiner

Album Art Direction by Javier Burgos

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Alice, Joachim, and Perrine; Paul Bushe, Brian O’Neill, and Lorcan Kavanagh; Alex Williamson and Victor Kong; Sebastian Örnemark and Mark Zuckerberg; Armin Steiner; and Stefan Karrer.


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