We all float down here!
…Pennywise the Dancing Clown
Couldn’t you pick a less obvious quote?
… Lisa the Intelligent Wife
When IT came for you what form did it take? Was it the statue at the end of the hallway of course not… it was that doll… that doll who currently watches you. IT emerges from the shadows as our deepest fears. These fears sprang from, took shape, and defined your childhood years.
The greatest truth of Mushietti’s blockbuster adaptation is his understanding that the Regan era has eclipsed the Eisenhower years. The 80’s are now the time for rank sentimentalism, wistful bygone musings, and coming of age stories. The fault no doubt lies in part with John Hughes, Fox News, and the Netflix hit Stranger Things (which shares the delightful Finn Wolfhard). This film, like its source material, challenges those times while basking in the memories they provided. This is reflected in the style of horror the predominates the movie. John Carpenter’s mutilating body transformations echo in those sewers and Spielberg’s plucky kids sit atop their bikes. It is here that the film triumphs forming truly frightening moments, and lovable protagonists. Where it fails, as so many King adaptations do, is in the nuance, the build, and the sickly dark sense of humor.
The movie dangerously starts with these failures. The classic opening scene falls short on every level because it only existed on one. Pennywise, one of the great literary monsters, is reduced to a checklist of evil clown tropes. His lines and delivery along with the costume design would convince even a militant skeptic that of course, this is a monster who eats children and should be avoided. The young Georgie who must have suffered lasting brain damage laughs oblivious to his fate. A fate that while unfortunate was probably inevitable for if the clown monster didn’t get him he probably would have wandered off into the van with the nice man and his chainsaw. Pennywise gets no better in this film. He is the great weak link. Everything that makes this character frightening is an homage to better horror and frankly better performances. While it may still be effective for some these choices rendered him to me a dull series of pop scares and scratchy dialogue. The most effective moments for his character were when the special effects crew or stunt double did his acting. His character along with each awful child/adult interaction trying to one up the last for the most horrifying parental figure (spoiler Beverley wins) and the substitution of character for archetype almost put the film beyond saving.
That is until the arrival of Bev March (Sophia Lillis) and Ben Hascomb (Jeremy Ray Taylor) finally anchor the movie and give us someone to care about. Their interplay is adorable, believable, and new. This allows us a chance to slip into the world and build a relationship with the rest of the losers. They are not all made equal. Mike is brought into the group far too late with no real dramatic reason for the delay. Stan is never given anything interesting beyond having the best fear come to life and Richie’s ending was as predictable as it was satisfying. But we care. We care if they live or die.
And once we care the horror works. The headless pioneer, the leper, the painting, and oh god, the hair! Bev’s fears both unnatural and otherwise merge together in the best horror since Get Out. When the locks Bev tried to cut from her life vomit from the pipes and an explosion of blood covers the bathroom violating her one place of refuge I was shaken.
Yes, the film still has flaws once we care for “the children”. IT tries to condense a metaphysical battle that King spends over a thousand pages developing and some of those shortcuts are on the screen. There are moments when the special effects are a little distracting. Every adult (and most of the kids) are mean to the level of dullness. But frankly, I don’t care. I just want to know who is going to survive. I just want to know if Bev is going to reveal how she truly feels, or Ben, or Billy. I want those bullies to get their just deserts. I want them to kill the monster. I want to cheer during a surprisingly effective CGI monster battle in the last ten minutes.
IT is worth seeing and if the box office records are any indication you probably already have. This adaptation is better than the miniseries by a mile and I also prefer it to the novel. But where it could have learned from the novel was a sense of growing menace. A growing indifference and evil within the adults and bullies instead of a non-stop oppression. A maniacal humor to Pennywise that builds to climactic violence instead of a safe jump scare. IT is a decent scary movie with excellent moments. A pity because it had every opportunity for greatness.
Until Next Time,
Lane McLeod Jackson