Credibly creepy source material? Check.
Good acting? Check.
Clowns? Double check.
“One of the best horror movies of all time.” Umm…probably not.
Then again that was a quote from author Joe Hill who, if you weren’t aware, is Stephen King’s son.
Still, it was with immense anticipation that I was front and center for last weekend’s big screen premier of Stephen King’s IT. Just a reminder, though Tim Curry originally took on the iconic role of Pennywise the Clown, that was for the small screen, as IT was first a 1990, made-for-TV miniseries.
This fact was at least part of the reason why expectations were so high. The shackles of 90’s prime time sensibilities were completely off and the movie version of IT was free to scare the snot out of you in any way allowed within the boundaries of an R-rating, which is pretty boundless. And though director Andy Muschietti’s resume was short, it did include the fairly disturbing 2013 horror flick Mama. Add to this the first IT trailer that I got an early look back in the spring, which included the whole Georgie-chasing-his-paper-boat-into-the-clown-inhabited-sewer scene, and I was pretty much set to follow Joe Hill into the idea that IT 2017 may indeed be the real, scream-in-your-seat, deal.
The reality was somewhat less intense.
Muschietti’s vision is a good one and the casting of the kids who make up the “Losers” was spot on. It may just have been unfortunate timing and a failure to anticipate the mad success of Stranger Things that allowed Finn Wolfhard, whom we know best as Mike Wheeler, Hawkins’s best dungeon master, to also be cast as Derry’s resident smart-aleck, Richie Tozier. In fact, though the book IT predates Stranger Things by over thirty years, the vibe from the kid’s side of the story is incredibly similar; a group of geeky boys plus one girl, fights incredible evil that adults can’t wrap their brains around.
Bill Skarsgard was also an unorthodox yet awesome casting choice for Pennywise. Originally making his mark as yet another Skarsgard brother playing a hotter-than-should-be-allowed vampire (older brother Alex played Eric in HBO’s True Blood), the youngest Skarsgard first appeared in Netflix’s Hemlock Grove. His bruised, slightly unbalanced look was amped up a thousand-fold with all that creepy clown makeup, and the insane looks Skarsgard threw over the tops of his eyes were sufficiently goosebump inducing.
So if all that’s good, what’s my problem you ask?
Maybe nothing beyond an overabundance of hype and an expectation that could not possibly have been lived up to. Or it could be that even with a running time of 2 hours, 15 min, Muschietti still seemed to fall short when it came to capturing on film, the incredibly detailed and nuanced horror of the story that King originally wrote.
As you know if you come here often, I’m not in unconditional love with King’s stories; he’s written some great ones and some equally awful misses in my opinion. So just to be sure of my stance I started rereading IT, and at about the half-way point, I stand by my statement. What is scary about the novel isn’t the clown or the fact that pre-teens are the ones standing up to horrors that would flatten an adult, but the persistent and incessant building of inescapable terror over the course of time that gets you. By condensing the critical scenes from a 1138-page book into a two-hour film, the buildup just isn’t there, nor logically could be.
To be fair, IT 2017 is only half the story, literally. King’s novel bounces between the “Losers” as kids and the same group as now very successful adults who are compelled to return to Derry, Maine to fight the evil they thought they offed back when they were twelve. This current film covers the kid-side of the story and I’ve just learned the script has been completed for IT: Chapter II which will cover the adult-side. No filming details are available, but Muschietti will once again direct.
So, go for the acting and a few descent scares, even go for the nostalgia if you were a fan of the original TV version. Clearly a lot of people did since IT broke several box office records by its third day in theaters. But if you’re expecting a nightmare-inducing experience that will scar you for life… not so much.
In the end, tucking into season one of Stranger Things might overall, be more satisfying.
Have you seen the new IT movie? What did you think? Post a comment or drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.