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It by Benjamin Wallfisch (Review)

posted Sep 14, 2017, 11:57 AM by Kaya Savas

With Wallfisch coming off of Annabelle: Creation, which was a wholly predictable and standard “bump in the night” movie that followed the standard “tension and release” formula, we now have It. The opening logos come up on the screen and we hear a chilling child solo vocal reciting, “Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clements. You owe me five farthings, say the bells of St. Martin’s.” This is a verse of a well known nursery rhyme from the United Kingdom (Benjamin Wallfisch’s homeland) and quite an eerie way to start off the score. Already you can look at the definition of “farthing”, which is a former monetary unit and coin of the UK, withdrawn in 1961, equal to a quarter of an old penny. So, Penny? Pennywise? Just one example of what makes this score so layered, so engaging and so damn successful at giving us a horror drama that focuses on characters first and then layers in the scares. Benjamin Wallfisch’s It is one of the best scores of his career and the year so far.

Stephen King’s It is definitely a known property, it’s one of his most well-known novels and the miniseries adaptation of it is something most people have seen. The book itself has a lot going on in it, and the miniseries was just an over the top campy way of deciphering it. But then again how do you make a film adaption of a story about a shape-shifting inter dimensional alien that feeds off of children’s fears while main focus of the story is moving from adolescence to adulthood? Well, when Warner Bros. decided to adapt the book into 2 movies, they brought on Cary Fukunaga who co-wrote a draft of the script and was set to direct. He departed the film after him and the studio weren't seeing eye to eye. Andy Muschietti then stepped in, after directing the very successful Mama. The It we ended up with used much of the structure of Fukunaga’s script but definitely streamlined the focus of the original narrative into what ended up being a really fantastic film overall. If you're expecting this movie to have all the layers of the novel, you might be disappointed. If you wanna see a well-made coming of age story with a shape-shifting entity that feeds off children's fears then sit back and enjoy the ride.

The score itself is the backbone of this movie, and Benjamin Wallfisch really treated this as a character exploration rather than a horror score. The entire first act is really dedicated to learning who the characters are so we really connect to them as an audience. The music paints the town of Derry as this picturesque New England town, but with a dark past. You can feel the music sort of leaning on its side as it plays over establishing shots. After Georgie's demise, which is the prologue of the story, we get to grow with the kids a bit. Beverly is an amazing character that Wallfisch really sculpted with the score. We see her become the center of the loser’s club throughout the film, and in the end she is what brings the rest of the boy’s together to overcome the terror.

The horror part of this score is where Wallfisch really digs deep to try new techniques and approaches to give Pennywise a truly demonic presence. That “Oranges and lemons” motif essentially is Pennywise’s inner monologue, that motif is his presence. And you can hear it in the theme for the Loser’s Club, it has the same shape. It shows how Pennywise has infected into every corner of Derry, living in the sewers and always underneath. When it comes time to dial up the terror, the music does not hold back. Instead of doing traditional builds of tension that release with a jump scare, the score is more focused on just fucking you up sonically. In some cases the music utilizes some electronics but its mostly just warping the instruments to truly sound inhuman and unsettling. This score is never like “oh did you just hear that door creak?”, it’s more like “There he is! Fucking run!”. And that is supremely effective. Never was I following a roadmap for the scares, I was following the roadmap for the characters’ journey. It may come across as being overly aggressive at times, and while it may diminish the tension slightly, it makes up for it in just overall adrenaline.

By the time we come to the climax and resolution, we’ve not only been on a terrifying journey but also an emotional one. The way the score wraps up the thematic arcs is just perfect, and it puts a great period at the end of chapter one instead of an ellipsis. The story ends letting us know that Chapter 2 is coming, but not in some gimmicky cliffhanger way. We truly feel that this chapter of the characters’ lives has ended. The whole narrative overall is just so rich and absorbing, and Wallfisch’s score is the backbone that makes us emotionally connect to our protagonists. It’s this bond that the score creates that makes It one of the more memorable horror films in recent memory. Everything about the music was beautifully realized and perfectly executed, and it’s a terrifying world that felt so real because of Benjamin’s talents as a storyteller. Chapter 2 should be an amazing trip back to Derry as we see the adult versions of our protagonist return to defeat It once and for all.