I think most people have a love hate relationship with Stephen King. I certainly do. I often read his books and watch movies based on his works and they are often gripping, making you miss bus stops and push your bed time back to 4am. But they can be as irritating as they are brilliant. King has many noticable tropes which range from the cute, everything being set in Maine, to the distracting and pointless, amazingly nasty bullies and alcoholic men. Then there’s the fact his endings are often crap. But with every new adaptation there’s hope it will be brilliant and not just another Dreamcatcher. Will that hope last through It?
In the town of Derry, children are going missing including Bill’s (Jaeden Lieberher, St. Vincent) little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott, Fear the Walking Dead). With the adults seemingly being uninterested in solving this mystery, Bill and his friends investigate the disappearances only to find a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard, Allegiant) haunting them.
Of course this is not the first adaptation of It to make it to our screens. Way back when there was also a mini-series which terrified a lot of people and has been inspiring people to dress as scary clowns ever since to the chagrin of the police. If we’re honest, that adaptation is often slow, dull and obsessed with the fact that balloons in and of themselves are scary so while it’s beloved by many, there’s definite room for improvement. And one improvement is by making the kids actually interesting. The interactions between the group, and the film as a whole, is obviously inspired by Stranger Things, so much that they even cast one of the actors from that show, but it’s an inspiration that works. These kids swear and it doesn’t feel forced, they talk about sex but like they have no idea about it. They even have a friend named Richie (Finn Wolfhard, Stranger Things) whose funny enough that you understand why they are friends with him even when he is very annoying. They are just a great bunch of kids and easy heroes to root for.
But the comparison we have to make is the clowns. Because if there’s one thing that everyone remembers from the original It, it is Tim Curry’s iconic performance as Pennywise. He was the best thing in that movie because like Tim Curry always does, he just went for it and stole every single scene he is in. Bill Skarsgard wisely doesn’t try to be as funny as Curry was, that would be a stupid idea as he could never hope to match that. But he is definitely just as creepy. From the opening scene where he stares up at Georgie from the sewer drain, he creates this unnerving atmosphere with his performance where he takes every clownish sort of mannerism but makes them terrifying. Though that doesn’t take much to make clowns scary. Of course Skarsgard does do some wacky things, there’s the now infamous dance in the final third, but he manages to make that sort of creepy as well. It’s definitely a performance that gets out of the shadow of Tim Curry.
And at times that means the movie is genuinely scary at times. I’m not going to tell you this is the most original horror movie in the world, it’s actually quite old school in its method. It slowly builds using classic methods by casting everything in darkness, having the music build in the background before it becomes unbearable before unveiling the scare, going nuts for a few seconds and then having the resolution, which is usually whatever demon that is haunting the kid suddenly disappearing. That is a theme of all the scares. But while it doesn’t keep you in outright terror, it’s good popcorn scares like you would get in a fairground. After every scare, you do laugh a bit because of the charm of the movie as a whole and because you are a bit annoyed you let something so simple get to you. And fairground scares seem quite fitting for a movie with the clown as the villain.
However when it comes to mixing the classic kids on a mission in small town USA with these horror scares the film is less skillful. It wants to be a fun movie where the kids speak funny lines and have banter with each other but it also wants to be very scary when the time comes. This works for some parts but at other points it leads to some really weird and bizarre scenes. Yes, I’m talking about the scene where shortly after Beverly’s (Sophia Lillis, Sharp Objects) bathroom is covered in blood after a geyser of the red stuff came out of the sink, the boys come to clean. And as they do that, a jaunty pop tune from the 1980s plays over it, making the whole thing into a classic montage. So in this potentially disturbing scene, we have this weird attempt to make it heartwarming. Well I think that’s what they were going for. There’s some other instances of this weird mixture of comedy and horror not working but that is the most glaring scene showing it.
And some of those Stephen King clichés do come and bite the film on the arse. We have those bullies and while they do contribute to the plot more than they do in other films, especially as lead bully Henry (Nicholas Hamilton, Captain Fantastic) becomes more and more vicious throughout the film, they do still distract from the movie as a whole because they are just used as a secondary villain when the film thinks nothing has happened in a while. Oh and that rock fight scene is another weird one which wouldn’t have happened if not for the bullies. And the movie isn’t quite sure what to do with the adults. Before you all message me, I know the deal with the adults in this town and I assume the lack of explanation this time is because of the inevitable sequel. But the movie here is inconsistent. Some adults are actually fairly reasonable such as the librarian and even Bill’s father. So I’m wondering if they will go down this route in the sequel or if it’s just going to get discarded.
I do have some issues with It but the movie is far better than any of us expected it to be. When this was getting advertised I thought that it was going to be complete rubbish and that we were just getting a cash grab based on nostalgia. Turned out that the Stephen King adaptation that we should have been more worried about was The Dark Tower but I’ve already dealt with that movie. This is a breath of fresh air, mixing the classic group of kids on a mission during summer vacation trope with fun horror clichés to create something that is just fun to watch. It is a horror movie that scares you, but one where you enjoy getting scared. You’ll float too…in happiness as it’s actually really good.