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The first footage from the new adaptation of Stephen King's IT screened at SXSW and it looks really good!


Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I was faced with a pretty brutal conflict today at SXSW. Edgar Wright's Baby Driver was premiering at the Paramount Theater at 9pm while a good half mile away at the Convention Center Warner Bros was hosting a presentation with Andres Muschietti and David F. Sandberg, promising first looks at both IT and ANNABELLE 2.

In a perfect world with teleportation and/or working time turners I could do both because the presentation ended the moment Baby Driver was supposed to start, but that's now how reality works, sadly. Luckily through some favors, seat-holding, luck and a bit of a peppy walk-jog from venue to venue I was able to catch the first half of the presentation, which indeed included our very first look at any footage from the much anticipated adaptation of Stephen King's IT.

Muschietti and Sandberg took the stage at the Vimeo Theater and talked a bit about his adaptation of one of Stephen King's best books, including addressing the recent tweet from King himself who saw a cut of the movie (which Muschietti described as still “a work in progress”) and heaped praise on the film.

Muschietti brought a trailer and a scene from the movie that showcased the chemistry between all the kids in the Losers Club. There was a technical glitch with the trailer, giving us the audio, but not the image, which caused Muschietti to jump up and down trying to flag down the projectionist to stop it.

Being a pretty big nerd for the book I could tell right away that it opened with Big Bill giving his little brother, Georgie, the little newspaper boat and Georgie heading out to sail it during the storm that would end up sweeping him towards Pennywise.

While they were figuring out the technical stuff Muschietti fielded some questions. He was asked about Pennywise and he said he didn't want to say too much since we were just about to see him in action, but “what I can tell you is he's terrifying.”

He said that he purposefully kept the kids away from the clown until they were shooting together. In fact, they only ever saw Bill Skarsgard out of makeup once during the table read of the script and then only ever saw him as Pennywise after that... and he did his best to stay creepy when they were around.

Muschietti also talked about how important it was to him that he created a fully realized and grounded Derry, Maine because when Pennywise wasn't onscreen his influence needed to be felt in the town itself. When IT shows up IT has a negative ripple effect on the town, infecting it with his evil. People turn mean, bad things happen on small and large scales.

Finally, the trailer was ready. The lights dimmed and we got picture this time!

My hunch was correct. The footage started with Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) making the SS Georgie, a boat made up of folded newspaper, for his little brother who rushes out into the rainy day to sail it in the currents running along the gutter.

Dressed in a distinctive yellow slicker, little Georgie is seen running down Jackson Street, chasing his boat. He hits his head on a Derry City sawhorse and his boat races away from him. He catches up to it just as it falls into a dark, spooky gutter. The tension is really ratcheted it up here as his little face peers into the darkness and we get an over the shoulder shot of him looking at the black void. Then Pennywise's white face JUMPS into view for a split second giving us just enough of a glimpse to see his insane smile before it cuts to black.

This scene played out pretty closely to the book (and TV mini-series), but it definitely wanted to get audiences to gasp. Pennywise's appearance is a jump scare, not a slow, spooky reveal. “Gee, how did that friendly clown get into that sewer?”

Words appeared on black, something like “From Stephen King's Most Terrifying Masterpiece...” as we see quick shots from around Derry as someone (maybe young Mike Hanlon) talks about how more people go missing in Derry than most places, especially kids. A cop puts up a Missing Child pamphlet with the smiling face of Patrick Hockstetter on a phone pole, Ben Hanscom sits in the Derry Public Library and sees a single red balloon floating through, with a little kid's whisper of “We all float down here...” in the wind.

There were shots of the kids silhouetted on bikes (and wearing short shorts and knee high socks... which might be cliched, but as someone who actually was a kid in the '80s I can vouch for their authenticity) looking into a sewer pipe in the barrens, a look at the abandoned house on Neibolt Street and creepy hands reaching through a cracked door a little bit like the Don't Open/Dead Inside door from the Walking Dead pilot.

Lieberher's Bill tells the other kids while they're on their bikes about seeing a clown. One by one they admit they've seen IT, too, until we get the one nearly full scene from the trailer, which has the kids gathered in one of their basements looking at slides via a slide projector.

Bill is going over a map of Derry and overlays the sewer system, showing that there's nowhere in Derry not accessible by these tunnels where IT lives... Suddenly the slide projector clicks rapidly through some slides... a theme park shot of a family, a picnic and then it settles on what at first glance is a pretty innocent photo of a mom, a dad and a kid in front of a house. The mom's red hair was blowing in the wind when the photo was taken and it covers her face...

But the photo starts moving very slowly, the hair blowing in the wind subtly at first until it throws glimpses of the face underneath and it ain't a nice mommy's face. Pennywise's face appears and snarls, the kids scream and that launches us into the last rapid cut bits of horror (including Bev's bloody sink) before the finale of the trailer.

The trailer ends on Bill going down the steps to a flooded basement and finding his little brother, Georgie, calling for him in the corner. “Bill... if you come with us you'll float, too...” The boy's face kind of melts a little bit and we get a kind of Apocalypse Now shot of Pennywise's head rising out of the water. He charges Bill and the trailer ends. His movement was a bit of that jerky motion you get from cutting frames, but it was definitely effective. It got gasps out of the crowd I was in and made my hair stand on end.

The weird design of Pennywise worked in the context of what I saw, but to be completely fair they spent a good deal of the trailer teasing him instead of giving us lingering, full-on looks. What did come through was this thing's insane menace. This Pennywise wasn't the charming jokester Tim Curry's was. Bill Skarsgard seems to be playing him a little more on the animalistic lunatic side.

My only real critique of the trailer was there was a noticeable lack of atmosphere. Don't get me wrong, it still looked cinematic, but everything was always pretty bright and sharp, day or night. It didn't give me a bad vibe, but I did feel like I was missing some grittiness that I suppose I expect since it's trying to capture an '80s look.

Again, it didn't look bad. Quite the opposite. The footage was really well-shot. I think it was more an expectation of the look based on what that dream version was in my head from my multiple reading-throughs of the book.

Muschietti also brought a scene to showcase the chemistry of the Losers Club, which shows the group in the standpipe in the Barrens. Eddie (played to be nervously talkative and smart-ass by Jack Grazer) and Stan (Wyatt Oleff) stayed outside of the pipe while Bill and Richie investigate inside, Bill deadly serious and Richie cracking jokes.

The scene was Richie and Bill finding a girl's shoe with the name “B. Ripsom” written on the inside (meaning Betty Ripsom, one of Pennywise's victims). While this is going on Eddie's on the outside yammering on about how he won't go in there because they're standing in “Gray water.” “It's basically piss and shit!” Lots of casual cursing, as most kids do, happens in this scene, including some F-bombs, so I'd expect the talk of the movie getting an R-rating to be pretty accurate.

Basically, Eddie says his mom will flip out if she finds out he went into the sewers and admits that he also doesn't want to end up like Betty did. Richie (wearing glasses with prescription so thick it enlargens his eyes) makes a joke about “oh, you don't want to go hopping around the sewers with only one shoe?”

The scene ends with Ban Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) splashing down into the water of the Barrens behind Eddie and Stan. The chubby kid is filthy and bleeding. He looks up, terror in his eyes. The Losers Club looks back in confusion and worry. Fans of the book will know this is the moment that bonds Ben with the group after a run in with the local bully.

In short this one scene shows us the key traits of the bulk of the members of the Losers Club within one sequence. I loved it for that reason. We weren't told that Stan and Eddie are the nervous ones, we're shown that. We weren't told that Bill is the leader. He just takes charge. We weren't told that Richie deals with any stress by making it a joke. He just does it. And all this is happening in one scene.

Right now my only big question mark is Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis). She has a few lines in the slide projector scene, but the footage and the trailer were pretty much Bill Denbrough centric. Bev is a major character and if they mess her up (or underwrite her) it won't matter if they get everything else right. She's so integral to the Losers Club and I just didn't get a sense of how her character is drawn in this adaptation from the little glimpses I saw. Or Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) for that matter.

But I'm not too worried just yet. I saw all told perhaps 4 minutes of footage. This thing has a huge cast and they can't be expected to make sure every single major player gets a big moment.

I gotta say, I'm cautiously optimistic about this one. That weird choice for Pennywise's design actually worked in motion, which I wasn't sure about. No matter what, this promises to be different than the mini-series and more focused on capturing that sense of doom and dread that was so clear in King's novel.

You can never tell how a movie will turn out based on a trailer and one scene, but all signs are pointing to the positive right now. Man, I hope they nail this one.

Oh, and before I go I should also mention I caught a scene from Annabelle 2 before I had to run out to grab my seat for Baby Driver and it was pretty good, too.



Lights Out director David F. Sandberg is making this one. I wasn't the biggest fan of the first Annabelle, to be honest. It has a couple of good moments, but felt cheesy and rushed. This one, however, looks to be going back to more of a Conjuring level of production value, which has me intrigued.

The scene followed a little girl on crutches looking through another child's while the rest of the house is asleep. I think the conceit is that a family takes in a nun and some children from a defunct orphanage after the death of their daughter. This is the dead daughter's room and the girl, who has a leg brace and walks with a crutch, is looking through it, obviously not giving a shit that the creepy-ass Annabelle doll is sitting perched on the bed.

It becomes a paranormal tension scene as this girl uncovers more and more about the dead girl whose room she's in, including finding her diary, which is filled with a little girl's doodles and sketches... She flips through, hitting blank pages, obviously not filled in after her death. Then she comes to a page near the end that says simply, in a child's handwriting, “Dear diary, today I came home.”

Then the creepy stuff starts happening. A hand puppet theater thing behind her comes alive, with hand puppets rising up and falling to the floor when the girl with the crutch grabs at one. The lights of the dollhouse near the bed turn on by themselves and the dead girl appears. At first she looks like an innocent little girl... maybe a little too pale, but soon the demon within comes out and attacks the girl on the crutch, who makes a run for it.

This leads to a rather nice scare scene as the poor girl sits in one of those Mrs. Deagle electric chairs that go down stairs. She flips the switch, it's not working... the door at the end of the hall slowly opens by itself. She realizes she needs to buckle in and does so, the electric chair so, so, so slowly descending away from the horror seeping out into the hall.

But, it looks like she's made it... until the chair stops and reverse course, bringing her back up to the top of the stairs. When she's about halfway up she sees the little dead girl waiting for her at the top of the stairs. She's not to psyched about that and struggles against her seatbelt. She looks back up and it's empty.

The chair comes to a stop at the top of the stairs again, but nothing's around. Long, tense moment of quiet and then the poor girl is RIPPED from the chair and pulled straight up. The scene ended with her shoe falling to the ground at the bottom of the stairs... a couple seconds go by and then the girl's body falls on top of it.

I'm not sure if she was alive or dead, but I think she was alive, just badly beat up and bloody by the encounter.

What I liked about it was that it felt very much more in the style of escalating tension that James Wan is so good at and something that was sadly missing from the first Annabelle movie. There's a little bit of class to the way this was shot that I dug. The footage definitely took the movie out of my “I don't really care if I see it” realm and into “Yeah, I'm gonna see this one.”

Well, there you have it. There might have been more shown and talked about, but I had to book it and I left just in time to make it to Baby Driver. I'm going to go ahead and write up that review as well, sleep be damned! Stay tuned!

-Eric Vespe
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