Tonight, New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. unleashed some brand new footage at SXSW from two of their highly anticipated horror movies—IT by Andrés Muschietti (Mama) and Annabelle 2 from David F. Sandberg (Lights Out)—and while I really try to go into movies knowing as little as I possibly can, I could not pass up the opportunity to see what both films have cooked up for fans.
With IT, Muschietti has taken the 1950s portion of Stephen King’s original story and transported it to the 1980s, with this first film following the Losers' Club as they try to survive all the mysterious murders and disappearances that have plagued their small town of Derry, Maine for so many years. For the presentation, Muschietti had New Line put together a sizzle reel that kicked off with poor Georgie taking his paper boat that was fashioned by older brother Bill out for a ride during a rainstorm, where he has the misfortune of crossing paths with Pennywise.
We were also shown a montage of various shots from the film, and it looks like Muschietti is going to be pushing that R rating as hard as he possibly can. Things were capped off with a terrifying slideshow presentation (which seems to be Muschietti’s spin on the Mike Hanlon book scene from the 1990 version of IT), where we see horror’s most terrifying clown messing with the Losers' Club in a truly unexpected way. We never get a full glimpse of Bill Skarsgård's Pennywise, but honestly, I’m cool with that, as I’d like to experience that fully for the first time when I see the full film.
Oh, and Georgie taunting Bill with the “you’ll float, too” line at the end of the scenes montage? Flat-out creepy as hell. Color me impressed.
We were also shown about five minutes of another scene that introduces Ben Hanscom while the Losers' Club begins to explore the sewers below Derry, as they suspect that’s where Pennywise calls home. It was a great way to see the relationships between the kids explored, and I loved how naturally they all responded to each other.
Here are some highlights of what Muschietti had to say about his approach to IT, the character of Pennywise, and the response he recently received from author Stephen King:
What I can tell you is that he is terrifying, and there was a lot of work involved in bringing a new version of that character to life. The work I did with Bill Skarsgård was great, and he was amazing and a very impressive, talented, sweet young man.
We tried to keep Bill away from the kids as much as possible, and there’s of course that first moment of confrontation, but I tried to delay that as much as possible. He was with them for the read-through, but then that was it, and all the kids were like, “It’s okay, he’s not going to scare us,” but that first day he got onto the stage, they fucking freaked out. I can’t even describe how scary he looked in person.
My first instinct was to basically be true to my own emotional experience with the book. I read it when I was a kid, so it was all about me trying to hit the core and the heart of the story, and the characters, too. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but you will notice that the story swerves into different directions. The arc of the Losers' Club is a bit wider in range, and you will notice there are things that happen to them in this movie that weren’t in the book or in the 1990 miniseries. So I think it’ll be a refreshing experience for fans, and a terrifying one, too.
One of the choices I made as a director was that I wanted to make the sense of dread that grows in Derry part of the dread of Pennywise. He’s not just a character that can shape-shift, his influence is all around. The anticipation of him is almost scarier than the actual Pennywise scares.
I grew up admiring Stephen King and reading his stories, and he’s a big part of me as a person and as a filmmaker. It was very, very humbling to get his response [to the film]. It was a tear-jerking moment.
For Annabelle 2, I had some idea of what to expect, as I had a chance to visit the set over the summer, so I knew this was going to be something more of a period piece, with Sandberg taking the titular doll back in time and giving us her origin story. The follow-up film takes place at a creepy farmhouse-turned-makeshift-orphanage, where a group of young girls must contend with the evil presence who has no qualms over killing tots whatsoever.
The footage we were shown involved one of the orphans (who can only walk via a crutch due to polio) being relentlessly tormented by demonic forces. First they go after her at night, and then during the day after she ends up trapped inside a barn on the property, where she’s terrorized in a horrific scene that involves some crazy goo.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of the first Annabelle, but knowing that Sandberg is in the director’s chair, I have to admit I’m really looking forward to seeing it in September after what we saw tonight, because those scenes were harrowing to watch. Plus Ouija: Origin of Evil’s Lulu Wilson has a prominent role in Annabelle 2, and I became an instant fan of hers after seeing what she could do in the Ouija prequel, so I’m already on board for this one based on that alone.
Here’s what Sandberg had to say about his experiences working on Annabelle 2, collaborating with producer James Wan and his cast, and how the look of Annabelle has changed for this film:
It was quite an honor to be able to come in and just play around in this universe that James established. It was something I immediately jumped at the chance to do. James and I had a lot of conversations about the story and the script, and certain things that we wanted to make sure that were in there. What was enticing to me was that this wasn’t just a straight-up sequel to the first film, so it’s not like, “Oh hey, the doll came back so we’re doing this again.” It is its own story, so I could come in and do my own thing, within James’ sandbox.
The kids all loved working on this; it was the adults that were more like, “I don’t want to touch that doll. It’s creepy.” The kids all loved her. And they all became best friends, too, on set, even the older girls, and since we shot the movie, they’ve had, like, sleepovers together.
Annabelle is a little bit different in this one. James actually thought she was just a little bit too creepy, because he thought, “What kid is going to want to play with that doll?” So this one has slightly more friendly features. So if you light her right, she’s not that bad, but if you light her in a more sinister manner, she’s definitely creepy, then.
Annabelle 2 arrives in theaters on August 11th, and IT is set to terrorize a new generation of horror fans nearly a month later on September 8th, both courtesy of New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. After what we saw tonight, fall cannot get here fast enough.