Review: Stephen King’s IT (The 2017 Movie)

It_(2017)_poster

 

Well, I floated. And not like the rubber ducky in the bathtub, but more like that sensation you get when the dentist gives you too much of the good stuff before a procedure. I floated right into my seat, high on life, and I didn’t come down for two hours and 15 minutes. I was like the red balloon we saw in the trailer, like that butterfly Mohammed Ali was always talking about.

If you haven’t caught on with all my lame figurative language, I’m basically being annoying about the fact that I saw IT in theaters on Saturday. Though it was technically the third night for the show, you’d have thought we were at a midnight premiere or something. I mean this literally when I say it was packed; every seat except for one was filled. (I know that because somehow that seat was next to my brother; I don’t know if we smelled that night or what, but I’m not complaining.) The theater attendants were checking tickets each time you stepped in and out of the theater door. This is something I’ve never experienced, but I get that they were probably just trying to keep out movie hoppers and underage high schoolers. A friend of mine who works at a movie theater told me they sold out twice on opening night; suffice it to say this movie was a pretty big deal.

If you read what I published last week about IT, the novel, you’ll know that the story has a very special place in my heart. I went into this movie expecting great–maybe even momentous– things. I was acutely conscious to the fact that I might have overhyped the film so much in my head that I’d hate it– so much so that I was prematurely. prepared to do so. I knew my expectations were too high, but I couldn’t shake them. I’d been waiting for this film for years, and damn it, it had better be good. When I watched the final credits roll, it was like having a weight lifted from my shoulders. It was over. The film was over, and they didn’t butcher my favorite book. Not only did they not butcher it, but they managed to create something that was pretty faithful to its roots, while handling any creative liberties with poise. I walked out of the theater satisfied and clamoring for the eventual sequel. Sure, there were some things I didn’t like, but they were vastly outnumbered by the ones I did. IT isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s one you won’t want to miss. Here’s why:

I guess the exact point to start would be with the feel and tone of the story. While the 1990s miniseries gives off a campy, 3-AM popcorn kind of feel, Andy Muschietti’s portrayal of the events in Derry are far from that. The film feels much more modern, incorporating much of the horror tropes we see across cinema today and using an equal amount of blood-to-jumpscares to keep viewers uneasy. The film provides a good balance between “we’re trying to scare the shit out of you” and “we’re trying to tell this creepy, intense story that happens to show some scary things.” This balance is especially important considering the fact that while most audiences were just wanting to be scared by Pennywise, a rather large subset of people were wanting to see the characters they loved from the book turned into walking, breathing things. It would have been foolish to focus on one element over the other; the film crew saw that, and worked hard to ensure that didn’t happen. Muschietti does a great job of interweaving the intense sequences with scenes of development and meaningful dialogue, and the film benefits greatly. I think different people will read the horror/story balance in different ways, but I came out not thinking of the film as a horror movie, which gives it more staying power in my opinion. You can convince someone to see a great story with some horror elements, but it’s a lot harder to get someone to see a horror movie that actually has an “interesting” plot.

My favorite thing about IT has nothing to do with how scary it is, despite being a dark and scary film by nature. The film is lowkey hilarious, with everyone from Pennywise to Mr. Keene making us chuckle. There are lines that will leave your sides hurting from laughter. Finn Wolfhard (aka Mike from Stranger Things) is absolutely hilarious as Richie Tozier. He’s by far the most interesting of all the kids, and that’s because he’s just so damn funny! There’s a running combination of “Yo Mama!” jokes and riffs between the friends, and Wolfhard’s character comes out on top every time. Whenever the theater erupted into laughter, it was because Richie got off a good one. These moments in the film are literal comic relief, as you’ll need to lose yourself in the giggles to be able to cope whenever Pennywise decides its time to try and bite someone’s face off.

I should have expected this, but where IT starts to lose me is in the little details. Nothing can be perfect, but there are some head-scratching changes that didn’t at all seem necessary. For one, Belch Huggins drives a car. A huge part of the story involves Henry and his goons chasing the Losers on foot, and giving them a car to run everyone down with is totally cheating. It makes the chases less interesting, and the fact that Belch drives suggests the Bowers gang is significantly older than Bill’s, which makes them less terrifying and more annoying. Other changes occur to the characters of Butch Bowers and Alvin Marsh, but those are tastefully handled considering the nature of their actions in the novel. The Losers are not free from change either; there are quite a few alterations to Mike’s story specifically, one involving his parents and one that places Ben in the child historian role, making the interludes from the novel a trivial point. This is okay, I guess, but I don’t understand why it had to be done. Why were we trying to fix what wasn’t broken? As a result, Mike’s role with the Losers is diminished, and I think that’s sad considering Chosen Jacobs may damn well be the most talented of all the child actors in the film. Muschietti has promised further involvement for Mike in the next movie, though, so maybe I’ll be placated in a couple years.

I just made quite a few references to IT the novel being different from IT the movie, but I don’t want to mislead anyone: Muschietti’s film stays true to form rather well. In fact, it does so much so that I found myself having some of the same complaints. Toward the beginning, we jump from child to child, seeing their dust ups with Pennywise, JUST like the book. Patrick Hockstetter and Eddie Corcoran make appearances JUST like the book. And Pennywise is fucking terrifying, JUST like the book. I’ll get to him in a minute, but you see my point. In an age where it is popular to chop apart and dramatically alter great stories in the name of creative license, IT does a nice job of giving Stephen King fans the movie they’ve been clamoring for. And, let’s face it: after that debacle of a Dark Tower movie, we’ve earned it.

Now for the star of the circus! He’s crazy, he’s scary, he’s evil! You love him, but kids run in fearrrrrrr, Pennywiiiiiiiise the Dancing Clown! (Wow, that was bad, huh?) Like most people, I went to see IT not only because I love the story, but I wanted to see just how creepy this iteration of Pennywise could be. We got the sense from the trailers and some old director comments that this Pennywise would be the antithesis of the Tim Curry one who’s been giving us nightmares for the last 27 years, and that assumption isn’t far off. Bill Skarsgard’s version of the clown is much more sinister, a lot more terrifying. The new Pennywise is the embodiment of every horror villain today; you’ll see tropes like speed echos, invulnerability, and all that junk. We see a lot more gore in this IT than the last, partially because the Tim Curry version was made for TV, but it creates a drastically different feel in our two clowns. This Pennywise doesn’t have nearly the sense of humor, although he does fit the mold of “scary” better. I’m not quite sure what to think about it.

Let me explain: When I watched the miniseries for the first time, I expected blood and guts galore, and there was none. As a result, the horror of Pennywise had to come solely from the character himself, from Tim Curry’s imagination. I watched as he took glee in tormenting the Losers, in messing with them but not quite closing in for the kill. Tim Curry’s voice was creepy. I wasn’t affected by the gore (or lack thereof) in the slightest, but the miniseries still scared the crap out of me. With Skarsgard’s clown, the creepiness factor is replaced by the fear factor. It’s terrifying when he chases Ben through the library basement; I jumped and I nearly threw up. However, the feeling I got from the scary scene went away rather quickly. I found the same thing happening each time: as the characters escaped danger, I was lulled back into a state of relaxation. It was “Wow, glad that’s over.” There was no looking behind my shoulder after the movie like there was after the 90s adaptation, and it’s because Muschietti opted for brief, intense sequences rather than sustained general creepiness. That’s great if that’s what you were looking for, but I’m not sure that it’s for me. Regardless of the Pennywise character, the visuals for this IT are stunning and that’s enough to compensate for any atmospheric shortcomings. It’s still just as unnerving, because the scenes look so much more realistic. It boils down to the type of horror you’re looking to see, but unless you’re Mr. Coolpants, I can guarantee you’ll be scared either way.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll give IT an 8/10. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, despite the fact that I think it could be touched up in a few spots. I still give it such a high rating because I recognize the esteem with which I hold the book–nothing could ever live up to that in my mind, but this was pretty damn close. If I had no sentimental attachment to the story, the film would probably score even higher. You’ll be scared, you’ll be laughing, and you’ll fall in love with the characters. By the film’s end, I’m pretty sure you’ll be anticipating part 2. All in all, IT is a terrifying remake of an old TV miniseries that was adapted from one of the most ambitious novels of all time. The fact that they tried to bring it to the screen is a feat within itself; the fact that they managed to do so at such a high level should earn them a medal. Or a balloon. Pennywise might appreciate that more.

 

Image source: New Line Cinema, accessed on Wikipedia https://www.facebook.com/StephenKingsItRemake/photos/pb.443581045662192.-2207520000.1467120045./1135496289803994/?type=3&theater 
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