Note: The story IT and I go way back, and I’m susceptible to nostalgia. If you want to get straight to my review you can scroll down. It starts just after the clown. Be careful looking him in the eye though. You don’t want to see what’s behind there.
I was twelve years old when I first watched the ABC miniseries. My sister and I sat in the darkened living room with our snacks and we pushed play on the VHS copy that my dad recorded. The pre-adolescent me found it to be pretty scary but, more importantly, a charming and deeply engrossing story.
It wasn’t long before I read the book. IT wasn’t the first of King’s books I read—that honor goes to “The Dark Half”†—but I first found IT at the cottage of a family friend. We were staying there for a long weekend and there were no other kids my age. I was getting pretty restless until I finally decided to check out the wall of books, and there it was 3.3 pounds of hardcover entertainment. I could barely put it down. I was roughly the same age as the main characters in the story and that probably played a large part in why I found it so captivating, having a story about kids my age that didn’t talk down to me or hold back in any way. That, and it was—hands-down—the most terrifying thing I’d ever read.
It saved my weekend and, more importantly, it fully cemented my interest in reading. IT was the Harry Potter of my generation, or at least of my own childhood. My grisly, brutal, and often sexually inappropriate Harry Potter. I have a strong connection to this story and so, going into the remake, I had a combination of high hopes and tempered expectations. I’d recently watched The Dark Tower movie and was acutely aware of the hit-and-miss results that are typical of King’s film adaptations. Part of me wondered if the Dark tower had already burned through a few movies worth of misses and, as a result, we’d be in for a string of unqualified hits. I could only hope.
Scary movies are like chicken wings. There are all different flavors and they range in heat from mild to suicide hot. With the milder wings you are better able to appreciate the flavors a little more and actually enjoy eating them, but it does feel like something is missing. With the suicide wings, you definitely get the kick, but that’s usually all there is. The heat overpowers the flavor, and eating it feels more like a challenge rather than something you actually want to be doing.
I found IT to be the perfect hot wings of horror movies. It nails that delicate balance between a compelling story and the moments of terror, that allow you to enjoy the experience on a number of levels simultaneously. The characters were well cast, and most of the dialogue played out in an authentic and organically funny way. Listening to the characters spar with each other reminded me of how my own childhood friends would sound−if they were actually funny. If I didn’t know better, I might say that we have “Stranger Things” to thank for the use of this witty childhood banter in the film, but it was a part of “IT” all along. It’s the writers of the Netflix series who took the inspiration from King in that department.
Also like Stranger Things, the timeline was bumped from the Mid 50’s to the late 80’s. At the time the book was released, it was the perfect 30 year jump back in time that seems to be the magic number for maximum nostalgia (see Back to the Future). In my own case, being from roughly the same era as the characters in the movie, the late 80’s backdrop brought me back—pulling up feelings and memories of that part of my life and allowing me to form a greater connection with the characters. Then, while partially regressed back into my pre-teen mindset, the fear was able to bypass my jaded, adult-armor and sink deep into my more vulnerable core. I would assume that this is a major factor in why a film, with a cast made up almost exclusively of young adults, has turned out to be one of the most profitable movies of the summer despite It’s R rating. Real life young adults aren’t even allowed into the theater. It would seem that it’s target audience is your inner child.
Speaking of fear, the scares came hard and fast in this movie. Often, a story will rely on a few good moments to really terrify the audience, but in IT this seemed to be woven into almost every scene. I noticed the occasional use of subtle clues hinting to the audience that Pennywise was nearby which contributed nicely to the buildup of suspense. I was particularly impressed with the imagination and creativity that went into the visuals. I feel like this is where a good horror movie can really shine, using beautiful and fascinating imagery that grabs your attention while it scares you half to death. Unfortunately it felt, at times, like the CGI could have been handled a little better, and it pulled me out of the movie a little but I could see the look they were going for and it would have likely been amazing if it had been executed correctly. It’s a shame because clunky CGI can really date a film and cause it to age poorly. The interesting thing is that I had similar thoughts about Director Andy Muschietti’s other horror film; 2013’s “Mama”. You’d think he would be more sensitive to that pitfall by now. Regardless, in the scenes where they were better able to pull it off, the visual effects were inventive and stunning. I particularly liked the blood spatter effects that were used several times in the film’s fight scenes. Their dreamlike quality added to the surreal nature of those moments. Peter Grundy, the Art Director for this film as well as 2015’s “Pixels” really nailed the visuals on this one. I don’t know how pleased he may or may not be to have Pixels on his resume, but the failings of that movie had nothing to do with art direction. I hope he does further work in the horror genre. We could really use someone with his style.
While I feel like a comparison between this film and its 1990 era predecessor may not really be fair, or even relevant. Putting aside the differences that 27 years can make in the fields of both storytelling and visual effects, there are also the difficulties that were faced by the creators of the previous work in order to mold King’s dark and gruesome novel into an early 90’s prime time, network TV special. Still, I feel that my review wouldn’t be complete without it.
Many people of my generation have memories of being absolutely terrified of the earlier movie. Some say that it single-handedly provided them with a life-long fear of clowns. Some (including someone I know personally) refuse to even speak of the movie, let-alone watch any part of it again. I’ve re-watched it a few times over the years and, while it’s always a fun trip back to my childhood, I hate to say it’s lost a lot of the impact it once had. The screenplay and acting for the main characters feels flat in many places and the story doesn’t seem to flow as well as I remembered. To be fair, it’s mostly in the second half of the movie where a lot of these issues appear and, being only chapter one of two, the newer movie hasn’t yet had to tackle some of these problem spots. I hope they are able to find a way to keep the essence and tone of the novel while making whatever changes are necessary to avoid a disappointing finale. I know what the book says, but I think we can come up with something better for It’s final form.
Finally, as for the “man” himself, the most memorable part of the 1990 version is still clearly Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise. It’s so iconic that it’s difficult to imagine that version of the movie with anyone else in the role. It was his personality and style that (for better or worse) people just can’t seem to forget and he really did make that movie what it still is today. I’m glad that Muschietti and Skarsgård didn’t even try to mimic his performance. Instead, they seemed to opt for a Pennywise with a slightly less “clowny” personality. I found fitting for the dynamic of the new movie, where most of the humor came from the main characters as opposed to the antagonist, though I do feel like they could have added a touch more humanity to Skarsgård’s performance. Part of Pennywise’s charm as a villain comes from his dual nature of funny jokester and creepy, demonic monster. The new version is missing some of that playfulness but, I will say, he’s got the creepy side mastered.
In summary, People new to the story should find it to be a funny, engaging and genuinely scary movie, likely one of the best modern horror movies they’ve seen in a while. For long-time fans like myself, it’s an excellent adaptation, true to the spirit of the book, and it easily worthy of bearing the title “IT”. I give it five severed arms out of five.
I’ll be waiting for Chapter 2.
†Our seventh grade teacher once took a vote at our book fair to determine which book she would read aloud to us in English class over the course of the semester. The class decided on The Dark Half and, for reasons unknown, she stayed true to her word. Minus some of the language, she got through about a third of the book before—I can only assume—some meddling parent ratted her out and ruined our fun. I did end up buying my own copy and finishing the story.