September 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

Stephen King’s “It” came out in 1986, and was a huge best seller, becoming one of his hallmark novels. In 1990 it was adapted for television and broadcast by ABC in the fall. The miniseries obviously had to tone down much of the gore and sex from the book, but still retained important themes and most of the plot. Seven children come together one summer and unite against an evil force that is tearing up the town of Derry, Maine. 27 years later, they come back to Derry to finish it off. In 2017’s “It” incarnation, the latter part is saved for another “Chapter”. This film only focuses on the children’s stories, and moves the timeline from the late 1950’s (book/miniseries) to 1989.

The 2017 film starts off as the miniseries did, telling the story of our main protagonist Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) helping his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) with a paper boat to sail down the neighborhood during a major rainstorm. Georgie encounters It in its typical form–a clown, and is attacked. It doesn’t leave much behind, so Bill thinks that George is missing, while most of the town pretty much moves on thinking he died. That’s one of the problems in Derry–whatever this evil is, many (especially adults) try to ignore it.

But Bill has a gaggle of friends that want to help him. There’s foul mouthed Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stan (Wyatt Olef), new kid Ben (Jeremy Ray ¬†Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and fellow outsider and homeschooled Mike (Chosen Jacobs). All of them come together in that summer of 1989, and all of them have individual encounters with It that give them a strong connection with each other. Most of the encounters involve a fear, something unique to each of them–but they all manifest as Pennywise (Bill Scarsgard), who winds up chasing them all around town.

There are some significant deviations from the novel/miniseries, so anyone with familiarity with the story may be distracted by the changes. Those coming in fresh will have a different perspective. I had read the book and seen the miniseries, so I had to open my mind a little bit to the differences. The biggest is the location of the murders and It’s lair. In both the book and miniseries, the sewers play a big role in where the kids wind up dueling it out with It. In this film, it’s that age old horror movie cliche–the creepy old house. Though the house is present for a few scares in the book, and hinted a little bit in the miniseries, it’s prominent in the remake.

And the house is creepy, indeed, and so out of place from the rest of the town that it seems forced at best. Almost as if the filmmakers were really trying to sell this as a horror film. There’s also the creepy old painting, the creepy old man, and of course…the creepy old clown.

Anyone who has coulrophobia will certainly be freaked out by Pennywise. Skarsgard has big, bulging eyes that glow; and in many scenes, he’s accompanied by a lot of special effects to make him scary. But therein lies the problem I had: Pennywise isn’t supposed to be aggressively scary; at least, not at first. The whole idea of the manifestation as a clown is to lure children into its grasp. It is simply an evil entity that can take on any shape or scary thing it wants. But when It wants to feed, children is the easiest prey, and a clown is chosen because that’s supposed to be the most innocent thing a child would be vulnerable to. But Pennywise is instantly unappealing. The scene between him and George is actually where the film started to lose me. Georgie pops his head into the drain, and out comes Pennywise and his weird face with buck teeth. That would send any kid running for the hills. But for no reason other than the story has to happen this way as it’s written, Georgie stays and is actually “entertained” by Pennywise’s antics. None of this made sense to me, and when the child becomes trapped by the clown, I was just shaking my head.

In both the book and miniseries, Pennywise is the focal point of It’s evil. This film is no different, except that Pennywise is always supposed to be frightening. This time, too, one of the characters actually has a fear of clowns. That would of course mean that Pennywise has an easy target. Yet, he pretty much terrifies each character as he encounters them. Apparently he cannot take you unless you’re scared of him. By that logic, none of these kids would have a chance. But they are still able to fend him off, for no real explained reason.

The film is over two hours long, but not much time is given to the kids to let us get to know them that much. This is another major flaw in the storytelling, because the kids are what bring us in. Like in films such as “The Goonies” and “Stand By Me”, the gang of kids is what ties the film together. In “It”, the kids are just window dressing for set-up scares and loud noises. Bill’s story is the most endearing; but the one that’s really missing a lot of potential is Mike’s. He’s almost just a backdrop, and his character is supposed to be one of the more important ones. Especially when these kids grow up, Mike’s the vital part that brings them together.

Their backstories are different from the novel as well, which again, would only be noticeable to anyone who’s read the book. But at least those backstories were intriguing. Here, we don’t really get a good sense of where these kids really come from. Nor, do we get a sense of these kids liking each other. Yes, they’re together most of the time and there’s one sequence where they all swim together. There are some good laughs there. But there doesn’t seem to be a believable camaraderie among them. Their ties to each other are rather weak. Even against their human enemy, a mean mullet-haired kid named Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), it doesn’t come through very strong.

But the biggest problem I had was Pennywise. I didn’t buy the performance at all. Skarsgard may be a good actor, but his lack of range with this character is a big flaw. Everything from his inexplicable and jarring voice to his over the top demeanor and croaky lilts, just did not work for me. He is not scary except for all the efforts to make him as such. He himself is simply there as a prop. There are certainly eerie elements to his presence: the glowing eyes, which are effective a few times in the film; and, his large size in comparison to the kids which creates an ominous feeling of dread. But again, a lot of that is manufactured in post production.

The film just barely scrapes the surface of what “It” is all about: the power of memory, the strength of love and compassion, and the tragedy of a town and community falling apart. Most of the film is just eagerly trying to scare you, and in any other run of the mill horror film, I’d say it was more effective than most.

But “It” has way more potential than that. It had the chance to soar. Instead, all it does…is float.

My rating:  :(