When I got home after watching this film I caught the 1990 miniseries on tv (a mediocre watch without kid goggles on). I was stunned by how closely the new film matches its aesthetic. Though it was shot on digital, cinematographer Chung Hoon chung uses lenses that capture the messy and dirty quality of that the first adaptation’s era beat for beat. It was likely one of the decisions that led the timeline change from the 50s to the 80s as it was in the original novel. It’s amazing despite that messiness how many memorable images he wrings out of the film. Of all the elements involved, this was easily the strongest.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that going straight as a horror film, ‘It’ doesn’t quite work. It is intense and filled with jump scares but it is not very scary overall. Instead director Andy Muschietti following in the success of other King adaptations like ‘Stand By Me’ and even ‘Misery’ nails the relationships between the characters as well as the coming of age anxiety drama captured in films like ‘Carrie’. In tradition with the famed author’s novels the horror is usually at its strongest lurking beneath the surface (The Shining). Rather than ‘Pennywise’ the killer clown be the main purveyor of terror (and actor Bill Skarsgard and co. do give him his due) you have more human monsters: Bullies both big and small represent the true menace of the toxic community that is Derry, Maine.
Director Muschietti comes up short in world building, opting for the simple character trope of having someone deliver exposition regarding the town’s history. The character who does this is changed from the book to provide greater narrative focus, which left me thinking that there are more kids than necessary. As such I was hoping the one who plays the lead role in Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ would be the one to bite it early on as his casting was a distraction. Despite some of his clever lines I cheered anytime he got hurt.
The handling of the lone female character is only slightly problematic in the sense that her agency with the group later on relegates her mostly to an object of affection in the last act of the film. This is only odd because the filmmakers do a good job translating and improving her character early on it clashes with the more complicated elements in the book. Sophia Lillis as the only girl in ‘The Losers Club” gives a great performance and deserves praise for advancing that character in adaptation.
Spoiler Alert Warning — Spoiler Begins
In the Final Act of the movie Beverly is caught in a trance, and in order to bring her out of it, Ben who is crushing on her big time kisses her while she is unconscious unsure if it will work, and for no easily explainable reason it does. The problem with the scene, likely a holdover from an older script or a rewriting compromise isn’t its differing from the source material or even the fact that it ‘technically’ reads as sexual assault. I think that there is enough grounded character work done here which the director handles well, for you to assume the best of intentions with Ben and that Beverly wouldn’t complain. The problem is the rest of the losers reaction to it mirror’s the same confusion the audience had where they don’t know what to think of it, greater emphasizing the awkward moment. The music which is obvious throughout and the direction for once drop out here. The most frustrating thing isn’t the act itself but the lack of direction on whether this should be a celebrated or offbeat moment. It fails to capitalize on either.
–Spoiler Alert Ends —
Such an example is very much a microcosm of Muschietti’s interpretation of the material. Dutifully and faithfully recounting ‘It’ without always having a firm grasp on how to interpret certain elements. His confidence does payoff; the look is there, the anxiety is there and it plays to the thematic material: a metaphor for the horrors of adolescence and anxiety of puberty. A splashy visual of red blood spatter drenching Beverly Marsh’s bathroom works more thematically than as a scare, which is why the coming of age angle soaking up most of the film works.
As for the interpretation of the creature itself the opening scenes dedication to the material is wonderful with excellent CGI recreations and practical effects that are manifestations of the children’s fears. These are all well constructed, the floating vista of Pennywise’s kidnapped circus haunting in their beauty, they just aren’t all that scary.
Perhaps because these recreated images are so well realized that the scares don’t match them. People fear what they don’t understand and that might be why the substandard tv series sticks with me. The clowning around in this film is impressive but I was never afraid of this Pennywise. No fear the rest of the monsters are creepy enough to carry the film in moments where it drags. None-the-less I feel this is probably one of the best adaptations this movie could have been. I felt like I got my money’s worth and not ripped off. I wouldn’t recommend the D-BOX gimmick.