Boy, oh boy, it’s been a little while since I’ve been to a big theatre to see a movie. Last I saw was Baby Driver (review: it’s great, go see it!) maybe a month ago. It’s been even longer since I’ve seen a horror flick on the silver screen, so considering the immense hype train (which I will admit I was happily riding) surrounding the new version of IT, you can bet your butt I’d be there.
IT (I’m going to refer to the story’s title in all caps to help avoid confusion) is an adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name, and somewhat of a remake of the 1990 TV mini-series. I haven’t seen the version from ’90, but a lot of people seem to love it, particularly Tim Curry’s unhinged performance throughout. I’ve read the beginning of the novel, but it’s snowblinded Stephen King (which I’ve mentioned before) that clocks in at over 1100 pages, so forgive me if I don’t finish it this decade.
IT takes place in Derry, Maine (duh), and follows the Losers Club, a group of kind of nerdy, kind of dweeby, kind of outcast kids who discover that an evil entity wakes up every 27 years to terrorize and devour the kids of the town. The de facto leader of the Losers Club, Bill is interested in investigating this evil force since the mysterious disappearance of his brother Georgie last summer. As the Losers try to piece together the mystery of Georgie and Derry’s other missing kids, they encounter the evil, which has taken the terrifying form of Pennywise The Dancing Clown, because coked out Stephen King that’s why.
I’m very happy that this version of IT exists and that it’s doing well. It set a bunch of box office records this weekend, and the fact that people seem to be clamoring for a hard-R rated horror flick is renewing my faith in moviegoers. But IT isn’t entirely about ripping children to shreds on screen and 12 year olds dropping enough F-bombs to make Quentin Tarantino blush. It’s got heart, and it’s got style. This isn’t an instance of a million people diving into theatres just to watch the spookiest new Paranormal Activity flick. They get a movie that’s got some great acting and directing and, when it needs to be, can be as funny as it is scary. I’m hoping this, alongside the other 2017 box office destroying horror flick Get Out, will help usher in a new wave of really well made horror that doesn’t pander, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is more than just a rehashing of The Conjuring for the millionth time.
So let’s actually address the movie, rather than talk about potential box office trends (which I know is what everyone cares about). First and foremost, Bill Skarsgård does a bang-up job as Pennywise. Obviously he’s the main villain of IT, but I wish he had more quality screen time. While he does bring his fair share of creepy smiles and freaky faced jumpscares, he shines when he’s given the opportunity to speak and actually interact with the kids. The opening of the film (one of the most iconic scenes from the book) where Pennywise is having a one-on-one with Georgie through the sewer drain is legitimately unsettling, and I was hoping it would be setting up the rest of the film to have more terrifying face-offs against this googly eyed clown. And googly eyed he is. Skarsgård brings some subtler creepiness to his character that definitely adds up when you watch him on screen. He never blinks, his eyes will occasionally point in two different directions, one often staring directly at the audience (apparently something Skarsgård could already do naturally) all while drool slowly seeps from his mouth. Yeesh, just remembering it gives me the willies. Unfortunately, this version of Pennywise is rather underused, with director Andy Muschietti (Director, also known for Mama) more often opting to CG lamprey-like teeth into Skarsgård’s mouth or to motion stabilize his screaming head while the rest of the frame shakes like crazy.
And there-in lies a big issue with IT. Don’t get me wrong, this is unabashedly a big dumb end-of-summer-leading-into-Halloween-time horror movie. It knows it, we all know it, and it’s better off for it that way. But if Muschietti reigned things in a little bit and showed a bit more subtlety, IT could have been absolutely phenomenal. The horror scenes in IT felt very James Wan-esque (particularly the spooky lady in the painting *cough* The Conjuring 2 *cough*), with good old fashioned tension ramping through playful camera angles and shadows before the big boo. The occasional subversion gets thrown our way as well, there are times where IT catches you totally off guard and times when it throws a total curve ball when you’re expecting a scare. I’d recommend watching IT at a showing that will have the least amount of teenagers or dumb university kids attending, because as many have complained before me: they suck and can totally ruin the mood or atmosphere of a movie by chatting, or checking their blindingly bright phones, or just being obnoxious simply by existing. But alas, this is typically the target demographic for bigger released horror flicks, and often times the thrills and chills on screen are designed for them. While IT doesn’t completely indulge in this behavior, you can tell that they knew they had to tailor the movie somewhat to appeal to these kids. It’s a necessary evil, but I do think the movie suffered a bit because of it.
For the most part, the back and forth between the horror and moments of legitimate heartfelt-ness or (surprisingly good) comedy keep the movie chugging along well enough that you barely feel the two hour and fifteen minute run time. At times I momentarily forgot I was watching a horror movie, particularly when the group is bonding for the first time at the quarry, or in the totally friggin’ sweet rock war sequence at the ravine. I can see how some people would find the mix of horror, kid drama, and comedy not so well mixed, but I think that those people are taking this movie too seriously. At its basics, this is just a spooky movie about a spooky clown that spooks children in a spooky town. This ain’t high art. That being said, there is some bloating due to the amount of characters and since I don’t know if they’ll be relevant in the second half of this story, I can’t tell you if they should have been excluded or not. A couple members from the Losers Club, as well as the main bully character really have nothing to add to the narrative and have very little screen time compared to the rest of the gang, and it kind of feels like they’re there just for the sake of not changing the characters from the original story.
When all is said and done, IT is a big success for the modern horror world. It’s another very R rated horror flick that’s made itself present and relevant in the mainstream without completely glazing over the eyes of rabid horror fans. This is proof you can have fun while you get scared. It’s a Big Dumb Spooky Horror Movie, and that’s totally okay. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s good and that’s what matters. I’d recommend it to almost anyone who has an inkling to go see it, and I’d be disappointed if you don’t shovel your fuel money into its box office engine, because then you’ll be depriving the world of more potentially enjoyable, big studio horror movies in the future.
Go see IT.