an IT musing
*NOTE: Spoilers are denoted below. Minor spoilers for the book, but a separate examination/comparison of the book and movie will be coming soon!*
Not being the biggest fan of horror movies, something about this story drew me in. Maybe it was the trailers that signaled a thrilling time in the theater, or the potential for this to be a huge hit, to be in the cultural conversation. Either way, I didn’t want to go in blind, so I read the 1400+ page book so I knew what to expect. While the movie can’t (thankfully) faithfully recreate every scene in the book, IT still manages to update the story to 1988/1989 and stays true to most of the character relationships. Each of the Loser’s Club members is so clearly defined with such little blatant exposition that other movies can easily fall into. Unexpectedly hilarious, IT brings tons of heart and gives you more to care for once the jump scares become tiresome.
In the fictional (but well realized) town of Derry, Maine, kids go missing, including a super cutely played Georgie Denbrough, and a supernatural entity that the Losers call It is responsible. Bill (Georgie’s brother), Richie, Eddie, Ben, Mike, Stan and Beverly, all middle schoolers, find their way to each other eventually as school lets out for the summer, and face their fears to destroy It. Stuttering Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is the de facto leader of the group, while Richie (Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame) and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) provide the laughs needed to get through their situations. Stan (Wyatt Oleff) is a logical Jewish boy, and meets the thought of the monster with skepticism. Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), a very smart, chubby boy, falls for Beverly (a very Amy Adams-reminiscent Sophia Lillis) before they join the Club, but Bev has eyes for Bill.
These kids are played with so much heart and joy, it’s hard not to fall in love with them. I almost wish they could have been in a movie where they just hang out, with no threat of danger; a BREAKFAST CLUB/other 80’s film with that kind of vibe. In a testament to the young talent on display, each of the actors give their characters a specific body language. Although they all have great chemistry together, only a few get the spotlight, while others get shoved to the side at times. The way the movie cobbles together the team is a bit forced, as if they knew the end goal, but not the way to get there. But Pennywise, creepily and menacingly played by Bill Skarsgard, gets some scenery he can chew on, and does just that. His performance doesn’t do much for the character, given that his scariest traits are his makeup and the camera shake effect when he charges at the children.
Although this movie has a few great scares, it doesn’t explore the uncomfortable psychological horror aspects that make me love horror movies. (WHIPLASH, although not by traditional standards regarded as one, is my definition of a perfect horror movie, or movie in general, because of its uncomfortablity factor.) The movie tries to show each of the kids facing It (in the form of their biggest fear) for the first time, and wisely spaces those sequences out. After a while, it does get tiresome when every five minutes, the movie feels like it has to wake itself up and give us a big jump, when it could have let the environment and dread creep in more. It doesn’t help that all the scares within sequences are telegraphed by a (truly wonderful, albeit) score.
***SPOILERS HERE UNTIL DENOTED***
But the terror known as It begins to fail as the dread of the story begins to fade. Pennywise the Dancing Clown starts to become less dangerous when he doesn’t kill or take Eddie nor Stan. It’s made clear why he decides not kill Bev, but in the first Neibolt House sequence, It could have changed into the leper when coming out of the fridge (and already did in this sequence) and taken him then. Sure, It loves playing the game and the hunt, but he has six other kids he can prey upon, which he can further divide by killing one of them off, ruining their unity and furthering their fears of It.
In the final sequence, Stan is about to get his face eaten by the Painted Lady, an admirable change and more tangible fear than his book counterpart’s, but yet again, It fails to complete his objective, when Stan is already at his peak fear. (Then, they all get into a SHAUN OF THE DEAD “Don’t Stop Me Now” fight, which turns out to be more comical than intended.) This is just another example of the movie trying to fit in characters beats to fit their 27 years later selves and to reflect their characteristics in the book in that timeline, but stumbling on the way there, not focusing on if these decisions It makes indeed make sense.
Another problem the movie falls into is the damsel in distress cliche. The Losers are splintered because of Bill’s insistence of going to kill It, while the others let their fear get the best of them. Beverly subsequently gets taken by Pennywise, and the boys finally unite to go back to the Neibolt House and defeat It once and for all. When they find her in a catatonic state, Ben decides to kiss her and she wakes up. I was hoping this movie would be smarter than that to (first of all) not let the only woman in the group to be sidelined and be used as motivation for the boys to get back together. And for a kiss to wake her is a weak plot device because it trivializes the power of It. Nothing about the power of love or anything like that is set up, so for it to come out of nowhere is jarring. *MINOR SPOILER FOR PART 2, POSSIBLY* Again, they are trying to set up events that do happen later, but don’t really work well in this case of a standalone movie. *END THIS MINOR SPOILER*
This movie lessens the brutality of the book by miles. Henry Bowers is just as scary and as much of a monster as It to the Losers, but has a much lesser role in the movie. This was a great opportunity for the filmmakers to create a great secondary antagonist, but this iteration of Henry has much less bite, and is more of a minor nuisance to the Losers. Maybe it’s because King goes a bit overboard (which he apparently is wont to do in other books) with Bowers’ graphic actions that on-screen Henry is such a nothing character. *MINOR SPOILER FOR PART 2?* And their decision to “kill him” off could affect his usage in Part 2; he plays a pretty big role 27 years later, but this film series is probably choosing to not emphasize his character, so we’ll see what happens. Kind of disappointing because he’s so fun to hate. *END THIS MINOR SPOILER*
That first Neibolt House sequence was so damn good, and was actually a great use of uncomfortable dread. There was a clear sense of space, although it was an unknown place they were exploring. Overall, IT is very well directed and builds suspense, although it telegraphs scares way too often. The best scares definitely had to be the projector and Pennywise taking Bev sequences, since those were so unexpected.
Also, there was a rumor that there would have been a post-credit scene that took place 27 years later, with Mike, working at the Derry library, calling the other six Losers to signal the return of It. All the roles would have been cast, and that would have been a great surprise for audiences. But it makes sense they didn’t do this, so now people can speculate who plays the adults in the next movie. The studio wasn’t sure of the success of this movie, so they wanted to wait until the response before officially greenlighting the sequel.
***END SPOILER SECTION***
But damn, IT is such a damn good time in the theater. Being scared with a whole crowd and laughing along with everyone is one of the best feelings. Horror and comedy truly do coexist, and the best horror movies take advantage of that union. IT succeeds at adapting a pretty bonkers Stephen King novel and creating a menacing villain in It/Pennywise, while establishing the Losers Club as one of the best and enjoyable kids groups in film, along with the Goonies, the STAND BY ME kids, et al. The chemistry and time we spend with the Losers far outweigh the glaring problems I had with IT. Part/Chapter 2 can’t come soon enough.
RATING: BEST OF THE BEST
(Refer to my rating system HERE!)