The It Factor
I remember reading It for the first time. It all went down on a boat in the Polish Lake District, while I was on a trip with some of my high school friends. I remember reading a lot of books that summer, including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (originally — and aptly — named Men Who Hate Women), some silly book about time travellers and telepathic dinosaurs (no, seriously) as well as It. Stephen King has always used some crutches in his prose, and it’s hard to discuss his work without mentioning that it is flawed, as any work would be when it comes from a person who is essentially a human book factory. This is not to say that It was a bad book, even if it dragged on, featured inter-dimensional turtles as well as an orgy made up of 12 year olds (thankfully, the movie avoids those particular scenes, merely referencing the turtle). The book’s strength, however, was that despite it being “only a book’, it was visceral and terrifying. The new film unfortunately fails to match it in that regard.
While definitely bloodier and more gritty than the Tim Curry mini-series, It still fails to deliver a lot of fright. Most of it is done through shock and off-beat jump scares rather than atmosphere and pacing. The gang has a scary hallucination, and it happens rather quickly — before we can actually get to know them as characters. The script seems to just rush them into isolated situations, where Pennywise tortures them with their fears, and then they just escape. This rush really seems to hurt the movie, as once the kids decide to discuss their visions, it basically grinds to a halt. The book allayed this particular issue with the clever use of two timelines, the movie never had adult characters to fall back on when the movie slowed down, leaving a much slower story to unravel.
The script also seems to fall flat when it comes to logic. Horrors are usually predicated on the stupidity of the characters involved, however It takes it to a whole other level, when scared children keep splitting up, despite repeatedly stating that they shouldn’t do exactly that. Some scenes almost seem like a monologue from a play in the theatre. The world freezes and one of the gang walks away for no discernible reason. This happens several times throughout the movie, and really weakens the well established camaraderie between the members of the gang.
Luckily enough, the gang is the movie’s main strength and backbone. The actors play well beyond their years, Finn Wolfhard makes an excellent transition from Stranger Things’ Mike to the trash-talking Richie, and Sophia Lillis’ Bev is played to perfection. The movie reeks of 80s nostalgia and makes the scenes with the gang by far the most interesting and fun in the entire movie — arguably to the point of hurting some of the horror, because of how stupid these smart kids get in those scenes.
Bill Skarsgard’s take on Pennywise is interesting as well. I didn’t find it quite as great as a lot of people, but it was definitely passable. Unfortunately, with the overabundance of evil characters like Pennywise, I feel like this performance may get lost in the long run, unlike Tim Curry’s which I feel is timeless thanks to his over the top antics. While grounded villains are the new fad, I’d like Pennywise to go beyond creepy and start adding a bit more pseudo-comedy routines to his arsenal (this is a Jack Nicholson vs Heath Ledger Joker debate all over again, isn’t it?).
All in all, It is a movie worth seeing, however probably not worth remembering or analyzing, a properly executed horror with strengths lying mostly outside the horror genre, in the moments of levity. In the end, rather than an adaptation of a novel that brought many young people some pretty nasty scares, Muschietti seems to be adapting the Stranger Things formula to Stephen King’s book, losing a lot of what made both Stranger Things and King’s novel appealing. When the going gets tough, the scares are rather forced and the characters move us into them making decisions that are completely incompatible with what we know about them, frustrating the audience.
The novel — and the performances by the leads definitely deserved better.