Just a quick bloggette, because I haven’t in a while, yet as ever I’m eager to learn from what I watch, to apply it to what I write.
And last night I started watching IT. The new one. Well the first half of the new one. The one that was out in cinemas in 2017.
Whichever version it is, needless to say, I didn’t sleep brilliantly. That’ll teach me to watch it in bed.
But clowns, balloons and storm drains aside… well what comes before those things? The first two minutes gives us a glorious taster of the horrors to come.
I’m convinced that whatever genre we’re writing in, we can learn a lot from horror films, as they’re so slick, so tight, so extreme… and they have to get that visceral response from us, or they don’t work. A bad drama is still a watchable drama. A horror (or a comedy, bizarrely) that fails to get that gut response from you, has failed.
IT does not fail…
We’re in a suburban street. It’s raining. (Instantly I’m getting a sense of the setting, but also a sense that this is not a sunny happy-go-lucky film – although summer sun, adolescent happiness and romantic luck will all have their moment.)
Mum’s (Mom’s, sorry, we’re in America – oh my are we in America) playing some sombre piano music. She thinks it’s sweet probably – it’s actually just a little creepy.
Bill is making a paper boat for his younger brother Georgie. They’re a sweet pair of siblings. Bill isn’t well. Georgie’s doing the running about. (Bill may come to feel responsible were anything to happen to Georgie then…)
Bill has a stutter. He sends Georgie to get some wax, for the boat.
Georgie asks: “In the cellar?” (He HAS to ask this. He can’t just go. Even though he’s not saying he’s scared, he’s questioning the mission he’s been given. It’s only the cellar. But…)
Georgie takes a walkie-talker before going (Okay, he is a bit scared of that cellar. Did I mention it’s raining?)
Oh, it’s October 1988. (Makes me think of Halloween.)
There’s a pause as Georgie faces the cellar door. Gulp.
It’s dark. The light switch isn’t working. The walkie-talkie is, and Bill barks at him through it with our first little (tiny, weenie) shock. (It’s the first beat of the story that tells us this is a thrill ride.)
There’s stuff in the cellar. The torch just about works. And are those some balloons over there? Is that a face? Nah…
The camera chases Georgie out – but nothing else does. But Georgie’s running anyway. He. Is. Out of there.
That’ll do for now. The rest of the film continues with storm drains and a terrifying monster and childhood and togetherness and a theme of going down to places but being (rightly) scared to go down there.
In that first two minutes, we got a little taste of it with Georgie and the basement. It whets our appetites before we wet our pants.
Horror films are great at giving us a little taste of where we’re going – but in a safe way, just hinting enough at the dangers to come. It’s a rollercoaster that hints at the big lurch early on, but juuuuuuuust enough to whet your appetite.
IT’s opening shows us setting (the house, the street, the weather, the family), characters (caring-but-poorly Bill, eager-but-nervous Georgie, aloof Mom), and it doesn’t forget to start the story nice and early too (Bill sending Georgie out into the rain to float his new paper boat). But in all that, it also gives us that taster of things to come – and even includes those themes of up/down, floating, water, light v dark, children as heroes, and so on.
Whatever you’re writing – drama, romcom, suspense, musical – using those first two minutes as a trailer for the rest of the film/series to come can be gold. Especially in an age when people judge and switch off so quickly, don’t waste that first scene. Give us a little microcosm, a little glint of the horrors/fun/chaos ahead.
Oh and don’t watch IT before bed.
Night night x