This week we are looking at and listening to The Darkest Minds, a new thriller that is one part Stranger Things (produced by the same people, no less), and one part X-Men – “if you can hear this, you’re one of us” intones a voice underneath grainy radio static at the beginning of the trailer, immediately suggesting the kind of psychopathic horror/adventure that Stranger Things has become emblematic of, but as will be seen and heard, definitely of a more action-oriented lilt.
The film centres on teens who suddenly develop superhuman abilities and are pursued by the government as a result. Our protagonist is Ruby, one of the most powerful of the lot, a 16-year old to escapes her camp and joins a group of runaways searching for their place and lot in life. You can predict where this is going: Ruby and the gang realize they must stop running and start resisting as there are no adults who have their best interests in mind. It’s part of a broader category of intergenerational struggles and near-future dystopia world-building that arguably entered the vernacular with The Hunger Games and continues on with Black Mirror, Stranger Things, and now, The Darkest Minds.
The music, composed by Daniel Beijbom in association with the trailer music house Brand X Music (Incredibles 2, The Lego Movie 2), begins in a somewhat cliché manner with a single, repeated piano note. After the first thirty seconds, however, we get an energetically bowed, spitting violin line in the minor key in sixteenth notes alongside a pulsating bass as the studio cards come in, providing a distinctive sense that the introduction of the trailer and the narrative setup has passed. The piano note continues amidst all of this; unusual flashes of action are accompanied by a bowed cymbal.
At 0:43 with the main studio title card, something rather unusual happens – vocals for the bespoke epic music track for this trailer. “We know our dying is near,” the singer laments, in a moment that is original for the trailer music world if a bit, perhaps, cheesy.
At 0:56 the gunshot synchs perfectly with the music, setting off a new section with greater emphasis on synthetic percussion, pulsating to accompany a car chase. Another synch point bookends this scene as one of the teens psychopathically rips a tree trunk from the ground and tosses it on the road.
At 1:11 we finally get a chord change — up until this point, the entire musical track has remained harmonically static. The sudden shift towards a progression of chords lends grater emotional weight to the dialogue that ensues. A simple counterpoint between lowering ground bass and a steadily rising piano line bring to mind Purcell and many others who employed this dramatic, time-tested musical technique.
At 1:20 the rhythm is doubled again, with frenetic arpeggiated strings accompanying the return of the vocals (“this is a revolution”), with the title cards promising “the ones who changed… will change everything.” At 1:33 the rhythmic pace is halved but gains emphasis and heaviness as the obstinate continues with an audiovisual montage of pyrotechnics and dramatic dialogue. The vocals then gain prominence as the montage turns to focus on action alone. After a final epic action scene where the music drops out, the strings continue with light accompaniment and the piano is given the last note.
Overall, this is definitely a classic action/drama epic trailer, progressively pulling out all the stops as it builds towards its 2-minute climax: plaintive piano, simmering strings, ethereal vocals, and pulsating percussion build on each other over the course of the trailer to sustain the audioviewer’s attention and interest. In terms of the pacing of these elements’ introduction, it’s a marquee example.
The Darkest Minds is set for release August 3rd stateside and follows in the UK August 10th.
– Curtis Perry