I really enjoyed the IT movie.
I just wasn’t very scared.
Now, you could take that as me saying the whole movie was bad, and that theater goers should save their money. You’d be wrong. I actually think it’s a great movie for fans of Stephen King, and good storytelling, to go see this weekend. It’s a quality film- it just isn’t a very good horror picture.
Then again, maybe it wasn’t trying to be?
For anyone who is familiar with the Stephen King novel, and also the mini-series of the same name starring Tim Curry, you’d be familiar with the themes of the story. A small town where children and adults alike go missing and/or dead every 25 or so years. The town itself has a dark history, while Pennywise, the infamous clown, has been an evil staple there since the town’s inception in various way. Similar to its horror counterparts, like Freddy Krueger, the adults don’t talk about the obvious evil. Thus leaving the children to fend for themselves.
Throughout the movie there are many scary moments, and Bill Skarsgard does a great job as the new incarnation of Pennywise the dancing (and horrific) clown. The first scene with the character Georgie and Pennywise is perhaps the creepiest scene in the film. It had a sense of mystery, foreboding, and darkness. You didn’t really know what was going to happen, until it happened. From there the main characters are plagued by Pennywise, (as he takes on the forms of their various fears), and the increasingly insane town bully named Henry.
This film could have gone one of two ways. It could have been a film that had the overarching terror and horror in the center and forefront, with the childhood friendships and coming of age tales interwoven. Or, it could have been a film about a group of friends, their own interpersonal issues, with the danger of supernatural evil spurring the story forward, but that evil not being exactly at the center.
The film went with the latter.
And therein lies the issue with IT being touted as the scariest horror picture in years. It just…wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong. The young actors were all very good. Especially Sophia Lillis as the young Beverly Marsh. Yet, the film felt like a darker version of The Goonies rather than a true adaptation of IT. There were adventures, foes, young love, and raised stakes- just like The Goonies (if you haven’t seen that classic film you’re missing out)- but the terror was lacking.
Even with the occasional missing limbs and blood, the metaphorical teeth of the story was missing.
In the original novel, and even in the the tv mini-series, there are some SERIOUS topics being dealt with. Those topics including racism, child abuse, mental illness and poverty.
One of the main characters, a young Black boy named Mike, had to deal with racism head on, having been called the “n” word in the previous adaptation and novel. The previous adaptation, and the original novel, put it right in your face. It was blunt, and drove home the ugliness of racism to the audience, and the isolation Mike felt before he found his best friends in the Losers (what the group of young protagonists called themselves). The new adaptation doesn’t do this ugliness justice, but rather tones it down for some reason. The film does a good job highlighting the abuse Beverly endures, and her strength, but doesn’t really address her poverty.
The sadistic nature of the town bully Henry falls short as well. There was something about the previous adaptation that made him a lot more infuriating. The audience was made to understand that he was a sociopath. In this film he was angry and hateful, sure, but the audience was all too quickly made to have some sympathy for him, taking away the edge of it all.
Then there were the moments of CGI. It wasn’t completely overdone, but there were plenty of times when it just wasn’t needed. One of the key elements of quality horror is allowing the audience to be terrified of what may or may not be in the dark. What may or may not be around the corner. What they may or may not actually see. I could have enjoyed a lot more of Skarsgard’s Pennywise without the CGI morphing moments. His eerie acting and eyes alone, that was showcased brilliantly in the opening scene, were enough for me. The film showed it’s hand too quickly. So building up to the suspense was almost gone.
Then there were the comedic moments. To be blunt- there were too many. Finn Wolfhard was funny in his role of the wisecracking Richie, but there were times when the film allowed the character’s jokes to dominate, when they should have taken a backseat. A comedic break in horror is always welcomed, but it should be paced so that the moments of fear and seriousness are allowed to land. All too often in this film Richie had a joke to tell when it would have been best to allow the character to take in the fear like the other kids. Yes, joking is a coping mechanism for fear in some people, and was clearly Richie’s mechanism, but it was obvious the filmmakers weren’t doing it as the character, but rather using the character to make humor. The jokes were funny, but often misplaced for the atmosphere.
Then again, I’m also aware that the film had a lot to try to put into a film, when the mini series had ten plus hours to get it right.
I’m looking forward to part two. It was a solid start. IT felt like The Goonies meets Stranger Things with a dash of Killer Clowns from Outer Space, and that’s not a bad thing. I’m hoping the second film will be a bit more adult, and the scares will land just as heavy. Also crossing my fingers that since it will be happening in the 2000’s there won’t be some sort of cheesy moments of Pennywise haunting someone’s Facebook or Instagram.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie- but I’ve seen scarier.