Editor’s Note: It opens in wide theatrical release September 8, 2017.
Every film comes with its set of baggage. Trailers that exist solely to hype up audiences, established fan communities, stories of on-site goings on, beloved source material…the list goes on. In the case of Andy Muschietti’s It, the baggage is immense. It not only has to fight the legion of book readers and die hard Stephen King devotees but also a slew of Tim Curry faithfuls committed to the 1990 TV miniseries, seeing Curry as the one true Pennywise. So what’s the read on Muschietti’s new It: it’s not half bad.
…the script from Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman is easily funnier than any previous iteration of It.
The sleepy town of Derry, Maine has a nasty habit of misplacing its children. In 1988, little Georgie Denbrough is excited to take his new paper boat for a spin. After getting help waterproofing the vessel from his big brother Bill, the SS Georgie sets sail in rain soaked suburban streets. Unfortunately, the boat gets away from Georgie and takes a spill into a sewer drain. It’s in that drain that Georgie meets Pennywise the Dancing Clown, the last being to whom Georgie will ever speak.
On a base level, a feature film adaptation of It needs to do two things: nail the coming-of-age notes intrinsic to the Losers Club’s journey and scare the holy hell out of its audience. Judging Muschietti’s It on these two factors alone, he answers the mail if only just. The Losers Club is not only the protagonists of It, but the very heart of the film. If we don’t come to care for these kids, the story doesn’t work, and if we don’t start to see ourselves in at least one of the members, the film would be missing a huge opportunity. More than anything else, Muscietti delivers on the Losers Club.
The casting is absolutely impeccable. Each and every child actor seems custom fit for the role, with Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Sophia Lillis being the true standouts. The writing for this group of thirteen-year-olds is authentic, bringing the audience in as an unofficial eighth member of the Losers. It also highlights a hallmark of the story that often gets overlooked amid all of the clown terror: It is often very funny. In fact, the script from Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman is easily funnier than any previous iteration of It. That humor is a welcomed element of levity that solidifies the more human elements and is the main reason that the film is as enjoyable and entertaining as it is.
But then we do have to get to that second point: is It even all that scary? The answer is yes, although not in the way that is hoped. Stephen King’s It is overflowing with darkness. Pennywise’s malicious intents bleed into all of the corners of the book, making even lighter moments feel oddly foreboding. The specter of Pennywise looms over the novel and makes the act of reading it a chilling experience. This time around, the scares are mostly of the jump variety.
Much of the dread of the novel has gone away, which makes the experience of the film much more uneven. Pennywise’s character design and Bill Skarsgård’s performance is disturbing front-to-back, but as soon as he leaves the screen so goes any sense of doom. It should make your skin crawl the entire time, even when laughter gets the best of you, but in the film you can anticipate just when you need to clench your armrest. By relying entirely on jump scares, and often forecasting them blatantly, the horror elements of the film end up feeling a bit one-note. For a story where the main villain is a shapeshifter, that’s a problem.
By relying entirely on jump scares, and often forecasting them blatantly, the horror elements of the film end up feeling a bit one-note.
The story suffers in a similar manner. The coming-of-age sections and the scares come across like two separate pieces. There is little cohesion between the two and as a result, any sense of crescendo is nearly non-existent. At times, it felt like Muschietti, while clearly a fan of the novel, was merely checking boxes. Creepy house on Niebolt Street? Check. Eddie’s aspirator and the occasional Richie voice? Check and check. Henry Bowers losing his goddamn mind? Checkarooni. The problem is that while all of the pieces are there, they never get put together in a manner that is satisfying. Rather than feeling as if the Losers are being forced to an inevitable point of action, both with Pennywise and the need to grow up, we just hop from scene to scene.
There is plenty to like in the latest version of It. The casting and performances from the central Losers Club is so good that I often found myself enjoying them more than I had in the book. The charm of the cast and the wit of the script makes it one of the most surprisingly funny films to come out this year. Balancing that is a truly upsetting performance from Bill Skarsgård that allows often predictable jump scares to still do their job. But as a complete film, It leaves you wanting. The pieces don’t ever fully come together and much of the emotional punches get drained as a result. It should make you feel gross, having you leave the theater in a funk. Instead, It is much like walking through a haunted house. Sure, you were scared here and there, but the feeling was fleeting and not a whole lot different from that last haunted house.
It should make you feel gross, having you leave the theater in a funk. Instead, It is much like walking through a haunted house. Sure, you were scared here and there, but the feeling was fleeting and not a whole lot different from that last haunted house.