I think a lot of people in their thirties and twenties have an interesting relationship with Stephen King’s It. We saw the miniseries from 1990 too young to realize it was crappy, and since the best part was with the kids, we connected with it. I’m not quite sure how old I was when I first saw it, but I know I watched it a lot. It doesn’t hold up, with the very notable exception of Tim Curry. His Pennywise has very rightfully become an icon. He hit a perfect mix of silly and intimidating.
The It remake has arrived at the perfect time. People like me who have an irrational fondness for the miniseries are old enough and nostalgia-driven enough to flock to the theaters. The teaser trailer broke records; this thing is definitely going to make bank. Luckily for us, the movie is actually pretty good. In a lot of ways, it’s a lot better than the miniseries.
Taking place in Derry, Maine, the film follows a group of friends as they spend a summer combating an ancient, supernatural force that feeds on children every 27 years. The self-dubbed Losers’ Club is led by Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher – the kid with the glowing eyes in Midnight Special) who is driven by guilt about the disappearance of his younger brother Georgie. Unlike the miniseries and King’s novel, the film does not follow the Losers’ Club as adults as well. It stays firmly set in summer of 1989, another departure as the original saw the childhood sections taking place in the fifties.
The best things about It are the dynamics of the Losers’ Club. The kids’ performances are great, and they are written like actual kids. They swear and say shitty things to each other, but you can also feel a strong bond forming between them. It’s a really great coming of age story. There may be one or two too many characters. It may have been smarter to consolidate since this is neither a three-hour mini-series nor a 1,200 page book. Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) tend to get lost in the shuffle; Mike even disappears midway through the film and then just is kinda back later.
The setting and plot revolving around a group of young friends battling the supernatural are no doubt going to draw comparisons to Stranger Things. Finn Wolfhard who basically plays the Bill of Stranger Things even shows up as Richie Tozier, the group’s foul mouthed cut up (side note: he’s great). Ironic, since Stranger Things is playing homage to King’s work, and the choice of the eighties setting no doubt has more do to with ensuring that the inevitable sequel (remember this movie is making bank) takes place in modern day. Although, the comparisons to Stranger Things may just help It even more at the box office.
I probably should get to the creepy clown. Pennywise is after all what It is most famous for. Bill Skarsgård is good. I think I’m too fond of Tim Curry to really love Skarsgård’s Pennywise, but he was creepy. He didn’t have as much personality as Curry’s clown, but he looked scarier. I guess it all depends on what you’re looking for in your trans-dimensional being that takes the shape of a clown to scare kids (yeah, that’s what it is). I’m not enamored, but I am satisfied.
Unfortunately, the film does have some issues with its scares. The pacing and sound design pretty much ruined the creepy atmosphere for me. Every scary image is underscored by a loud noise or overbearing music to ensure the audience jumps. I guess it works sometimes; other times it ruins some really interesting horror imagery. Similarly, the film doesn’t seem to want to linger on anything. It cuts away from the creepy imagery really fast, so it doesn’t really have much of an impact beyond the initial startle. There’s a scene in a library near the beginning that pretty much perfectly illustrates these points. There’s some great horror imagery and even a little bit of suspenseful build up, but it’s undercut by the soundtrack and some quick editing. Also, there is a lot of Pennywise running at the camera with the footage sped up. If you find that scary, it’ll work for you. It didn’t do anything for me.
You could also say the film has some tonal issues. Sometimes it gets really goofy. This didn’t bother me that much. Mostly because I liked the dynamics of the kids, and the horror wasn’t doing it for me, so a tonal shift wasn’t ruining anything. Although there was one moment where some serious exposition was happening, and then suddenly there was a semi-reoccurring New Kids on the Block joke. It felt like it was happening at the wrong moment in the scene. Similarly, at one point a full on, eighties cleaning up montage starts. Like I said, this didn’t bother me that much. The undermining of the horror is definitely a bigger issue.
Overall, I liked It. I think it made smart changes from the source material; we really don’t need to see the Losers’ Club as adults (yet). The performances all around are very good. But it does waste some great horror imagery and a great horror plot by following contemporary horror formulas.
Cake Rating: Let’s say two cupcakes and something circus-y. Circus peanuts maybe? Sure. Two cupcakes and some circus peanuts.