One of the most horrifying works from Stephen King, his novel IT, has a new film adaptation of the same name coming to theatres on September 8. As a promotion, New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures have created Float: A Cinematic VR Experience, which allows users to encounter Pennywise, the central villain, before his big screen debut. While the production companies have made Float available online to watch on various platforms, those without VR-capability can experience it at a convention.
Given the huge draw for this, I knew showing up early would be key. Timeslot tickets are being handed out to ensure crowd control. There are several thousand tickets available each day. While that sounds like a lot, this convention has an attendance history of well over 100,000. If you have any interest in experiencing Float, go as soon as the gates open! I was in line at 10:20am. By the time I got to experience the VR an hour later, the line manager was already handing out tickets for 3:00pm.
As I waited in line, myself and the other attendees were asked to sign waivers. No, thankfully not in case of any soiled pants or medical issues (although there are many warnings at the start of the line for such things), but for media release – our reactions would be filmed and could be used for additional promotion of IT. After each new group had gone in and begun their VR journey, I saw the bus rocking. Given that there is no obvious hydraulics put into operation on this bus, I was optimistic about it coming from terrified individuals inside that could not contain their fear. However, I did not hear even one scream. I chalked that up to good soundproofing.
Soon enough, I was stepping onto the yellow bus for Derry High School.
When you step onto the bus, you find yourself only allowed in the front half; there is a closed door to get to the back half. There are no windows, no seats. In fact, the entire inside structure is a mock tunnel. There is a flickering light over the closed door, and a dimly lit stream (with little storyline Easter Eggs!) underneath your feet. It is now clear to me that we are in the sewers to look for Georgie, the young brother of protagonist Bill Denbrough. This waiting area implements lighting, special effects, and that Pennywise sadistic laugh to build tension. It was a little disappointing, as everyone was waiting for a payoff scare that never happened, but I figured that was being saved for the actual VR.
When the time comes, an exhibitor opens the tunnel door, and you are escorted into the back half of the bus, complete with gaming chairs lining the sides. There is an entire explanation on proper use of the headphones, visor, and chair to ensure everyone participates in Float as intended. As soon as you put the visor on, which is the final piece of equipment, the experience begins.
The scene opens on a dark, rainy street, where you see Georgie taking his homemade boat out for a cruise. It gets away from him and washes into a sewer. This infamous scene is where we typically meet Pennywise for the first time, and Float is no exception. For the rest of the video, the user travels the sewers looking for Georgie, with plenty of unexpected jolts along the way.
I was very impressed that Float utilizes the ability for 360 degree video, but I wonder if some people may miss some details if they are looking in the wrong direction. Overall, the visuals appear almost cartoonish and are not crisp – with the exception of Pennywise himself. It is clear that the majority of the budget went in to details of this character, and he is literally fear incarnate – his appearance, his mannerisms, and that voice. This is the public’s first chance to see Pennywise in all his terrifying glory, in a way that photos and trailers cannot do. And he does not disappoint.
Considering what a big Stephen King fan (and horror fan in general) I am, I have nothing but high hopes for the IT film adaptation. Float, however, actually left me wanting. It set an ominous and tense atmosphere, but then relied almost solely on jump scares which, to me, are a cheap party trick in the horror genre. Nothing about the fear that stemmed from Float was lasting. While Pennywise is truly frightening, I am beyond jump scare tactics. Unfortunately, Float was very well hyped with no real reward, and I am just hoping that the film shows us otherwise.