I just came home from watching the pre-premiere of IT and my senses are overloaded.
This much-awaited reboot of the original made-television mini-series had a lot riding on its shoulders. IT is one of Stephen King’s most famous works, and the 1990 television movie, although not dreadful, only managed to scratch the surface of the horrors which lie in the extremely long novel. You can read my full review of it here.
So did it work? Was IT worth it?
The short answer is, “Yes!”
But before I get into all the reasons this movie is worth the price of admission, let me spend a little time on the things which turned me off.
Dare I say that it was a bit light in parts?
I actually caught myself having fun while watching some parts of this movie. This is mostly due to the uneven directing by Andrés Muschiettm. He played a lot of the story by the numbers with jump scares galore, twisted faces superimposed on each other chasing screaming kids in the dark, sly camera-pan angles around corners – in short, nothing we haven’t seen in every horror film before this one and perhaps even some episodes of The Walking Dead.
He also tried very hard to make these kids likable – and indeed they were. There were plenty of dick jokes, and 80s pop-culture references, which instead of adding textures to the characters, actually detracted me from the would-be seriousness of the film. What the original televised series did so well, is dig deep into each of these kids fears and allow their paranoia to build to a simmer before eventually boiling over. I felt these kids could have been any kids and the story wouldn’t have suffered any.
Worst of all is that with every nerdy joke, 80s reference, and bike riding scene, I kept being reminded of Stranger Things. And while I understand that Stranger Things is a direct homage to movies like IT, it’s not a show that operates on a pure horror level. In fact, it’s a lot of “fun” – which is what I didn’t need IT to be.
Unfortunately Muschiettm never really found the perfect balance between the best parts of the film, which were truly horrific, and the lighter parts of the film, which were truly funny. He also didn’t seem to know what to do with the story of the real-world bullies who tormented The Losers. They came off as an add-on and a waste of screen time which could have benefited from more exposition into our hero’s lives.
Having said all that, I came actually came away happy!!!
IT understands that its audience wants to jump out of their seats in horror and it delivered. I imagine that someone must have written the word, “visceral” all over the set because that is the only way I can describe the parts of IT which worked. Every time Muschiettm decided to throw away the “been there done that” horror playbook, he came up with memorable blood pumping sequences and IT would transform into an exciting horror-action film with everything at stake.
I left the theatre (and even while I write this) with my head pounding. Muschiettm throws visuals at the screen with lightning speed and dares us to keep up. This is most evident in Bill Skarsgard’s portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. He had big shoes to fill replacing Tim Curry in the role but did an admirable, albeit imperfect, job.
Overall, Skarsgard is at his worst when he tries to deliver dialogue which is supposed to scare on a psychological level. His speech is too quick and enunciation is off – this is Curry’s masterful territory and his iconic slow and methodical performance is one the main reasons why the televised movie remains a cult favourite. However, when Skarsgard reveals himself for what he is – a maniacal death machine – his performance, and the movie, benefit. He drives his madness into the audience like a jack-hammer and dares us to look away. What he manages to do with his eyes, face and body (with a bit of CGI help) make up for his lack of vocal presence. He certainly held the mantle of Pennywise high – but will give you scares for very different reasons than Curry.
I recommend seeing IT even if it is devoid of the psychological horror that was the main allure for me in the original IT movie and book. But even while working as a pseudo-slasher/adventure film, it knows what buttons to push and pushes them well. It offers more than a few surprises and genuine laughs – and makes for an overall enjoyable movie experience. Let’s hope Chapter II, the adult story-line, operates on a more cerebral level.
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