Interview with The Tank composer Max Aruj – 2023 creature feature!

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 21: Max Aruj attends the Los Angeles Premiere Of "Lansky" at Harmony Gold on June 21, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 21: Max Aruj attends the Los Angeles Premiere Of "Lansky" at Harmony Gold on June 21, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images) /

Scheduled for release on April 21, 2023, The Tank is a new monster movie directed by Scott Walker (read about his film The Frozen Ground here)! The Tank is about a family (Luciane Buchanan, Matt Whelan, Zara Nausbaum) who inherit a coastal property with a dark history, odd secrets…and an invasive species. It’s a healthy reminder often found in sci-fi horror: If an inherited property seems too good to be true, it probably is, and that property is probably stalked by at least one strange and terrible creature.

We talked with the film’s score composer, Max Aruj, about working on The Tank, and also his work on the other horror flick, Crawl (a killer alligator flick praised by Quentin Tarantino, among others). Max Aruj has also worked in the music department on projects like the TV series Obi-Wan Kenobi and a little flick called Top Gun: Maverick.

Interview with “The Tank” composer Max Aruj

1428 ELM: You have worked on both Crawl and The Tank. Would you say you have a musical affinity with basement-dwelling aquatic creatures?

MAX ARUJ: Thank you for making me laugh out loud. I think it goes without saying Jaws is the godfather of this genre, and for a film, composer to call themselves a professional is to have watched and studied this masterpiece. Crawl and The Tank honor this genre. I am always proud to dip my toes into this genre and continue to explore the possibilities that score can explore in this cinematic world.

1428 ELM: What was it like composing music for a monster movie?

MAX ARUJ: It’s so much fun. But first, nailing the creature motif is necessary. If you don’t figure that out early on, then you’re in trouble. The whole score is based around a strong theme for the “antagonist.” So once you crack the code, you’re in good shape. Every sound that comes after is inspired by that one simple melody, melodically, and sonically. The score should unravel quite naturally after that!

1428 ELM: What is it like working on a project involving Hans Zimmer?

MAX ARUJ: It’s intense, but so educational. Everything you do needs to be so focused and thoroughly produced, i.e., sound like a final product from the very beginning. Lots of fix notes to come, which take lots of time, but once you get there, it is very rewarding, especially on a big film like Top Gun: Maverick; a lot of voices in the room, but when all said and done, the film speaks for itself, and was enjoyed by so many people.

1428 ELM: What sort of instruments and compositional techniques did you employ for The Tank?

MAX ARUJ: The creature motif needed to sound ancient, so a detuned gritty orchestral sound was decided upon early to achieve the perilous feeling we hear from the beginning. Celli, playing tremolo, sliding, and transposed was the perfect instrument to carry this theme. The other main idea was the metallic idea of The [water] Tank. We wanted it to feel like a cold dangerous place.

I scraped different knives together in a bunch of different ways to get this weird boom; the trick was, it needed to sound musical enough that it was clear it was part of the music and not part of the sound fx. The water dripping/splashing around needed to be distinct from my musical metals that were a part of the tension.

Is The Tank similar to Jaws and Alien?

The Tank
The Tank – Courtesy White Bear PR /

1428 ELM: What are some of your favorite monsters from television and movies?

MAX ARUJ: As I mentioned above, Jaws; Alien as well as one of the greats. E.T. of course is another fantastic score – a very different tone, but what can be learned is the curiosity and “otherness” that we need to feel before we get into the zone of terror. So in the first part of the movie, before the stakes go way up, a sense of wonderment is needed to create intrigue and draw us in.

1428 ELM: Similarly, to that last question, are there any monsters you think have been overlooked?

MAX ARUJ: Off the top of my head, I’m trying to think of a film I purposefully didn’t think about when writing this score. For example, Chucky I didn’t think about, because the tone/character is totally different. I’m sure there are so many more; but the reason for this is that the director had a very clear vision from the beginning, so we know what tone we wanted to create with the score, which makes the whole process all the more easy.

1428 ELM: One thing that helps The Tank is that there aren’t any bad CGI moments. Things look pretty real. What are your thoughts on the look of the monster, and did that influence the music in any way?

MAX ARUJ: Alien for sure was a good reference, a sense of realism tells us these characters are truly fearing for their lives/safety of their family. This is not The Meg, where the concept is more overtop/larger scale. This film is intimate, and needs a grounded feeling throughout so we feel like we are on the hook until the very end.

1428 ELM: What are some myths/misconceptions about composing music?

MAX ARUJ: When you finish a piece of music, that is step 1. The revising part is when the work really comes in. The first version is the tip of the iceberg. What lies beneath the surface is all those failed versions/fixes. But once you get used to this process, it doesn’t feel so crushing when your first versions aren’t fully approved from the get-go. You learn and get more comfortable with the back and forth – it’s part of the game.

1428 ELM: What are some underrated horror movies (including any you have worked on)?

MAX ARUJ: I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I LOVED Scream 6, a masterclass in how to make a fun exciting thriller. The audience ate it up when I saw it in theaters a couple of weeks ago.

1428 ELM: Can you tell us about any projects you are working on now?

MAX ARUJ: I have just finished an action animation series, which I’m very excited about.
I’m in the middle of a big action movie; still a ways to go, but getting there!
I’ve also just finished a great thriller with my friend Steffen Thum, called Kill – not sure of the release date yet, but some very cool stuff in there.

We’d like to thank Max Aruj for answering our questions, and check out The Tank! You’ll tank yourself for it later (sorry).

Next. Resident Evil: 20 scariest monsters in the game franchise. dark

What are your favorite “creature feature” films? Let us know in the comments section.