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IT, IT, IT – Part 1: The Movie

it_movie_posterIT is the 2017 theatrical adaptation of Stephen King’s infamous horror novel about a group of children who face down a scary clown named Pennywise. It’s done gangbusters business at the box office largely due to two things. First, clowns have become real life objects of terror with cosplaying creeps scaring people in public. Second, the movie does what a horror film should –  make you jump out of your seat. It’s beautiful to look at, but it feels hollow for much of the journey. I’ve never read the book and I haven’t seen the mini-series since it aired, but this felt like a cliff notes version of the story. Nonetheless, as a horror fan it was worth a watch.

IT’s good – this movie plays rough.

It took me an hour to really get into IT (so many chances for puns). There are traces of a meaningful story, but King’s novel has been abridged in this adaptation. Also, the characters are so numerous that it takes time to understand each of them. That being said, the cast of newcomers is excellent. The film has age appropriate casting and dialogue. That realism is one of the pluses. This story is rough with the innocent in a way I’ve rarely seen. We identify with them because they are vulnerable, not because they have well defined personalities. All of their parents are absent or abusive. They’re on their own. The filmmaker’s willingness to terrorize and isolate young children is what makes the film engaging.

IT is chock full of cringy gross outs and jump scares. It’s reminiscent of recent fare like The ConjuringSinister and the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake. There’s lots of darkness interupted by music stings and digital monsters that go “boo!” It’s formulaic, but it works. This is a high priced version of an internet scare video. (Put your headphones on for this car commercial.) That’s all this film really aims to do. It does it pretty well.

IT’s bad – inexperienced filmmakers.

Now, on to two things that irritated me. Director, Andy Muschietti, uses too many wide angle tracking shots. Instead of creating interesting static compositions, handholding or cutting to close-ups, the camera rolls into every scene. This creates a dreamy quality that works well for the fantasy scares, but it’s an overused visual tick. It looks nice, but it started to grate on me. His scenes play like a cinematographer’s demo reel rather than a piece of storytelling. This is partly why the characters feel so distant. We’re frequently in a master shot, watching everybody at once in a sweeping movement.

My second beef is with the music. Benjamin Wallfisch is an orchestrator and conductor who stepped up to composing recently. He’s able to create effective music stings for the scares, but when it comes to smaller dramatic moments the music swells to a meaningless crescendo and/or cuts to an inappropriate pop song. I think this is another cause for my lack of empathy in the first half of the film. There are no character thematics in the score and no clues to what anyone is thinking or feeling.

IT’s ugly truth – lazy episodic filmmaking has arrived.

By film’s end, my care for these kids had been established and they were finally on their way to an objective – then the film ended with a card that read “Chapter One.” What is this – TV? Who pays to see half the story? Apparently, a lot of people. This is becoming acceptable now that studios are obsessed with franchises.

IT is visually terrifying, but it felt like the monster bits were finished and the rest of the film was just an outline. I’m not sure the Stephen King pedigree really adds to the experience. The one impact this picture makes is with mood and digital character effects. Those jumpy monster scares and designs are really top notch. Pennywise is scary as hell, but half the time he’s animated. It takes outstanding make-up and VFX to make Bill Skarsgård into the clown.

The film is definitely worth a watch for horror fans as it does the essentials of the job, but I don’t think it warrants the hype. It’s a curious bit of zeitgeist – clowns, kids on bikes and the always dependable King of horror. Still, I was intrigued by the remnants of story tucked in between those scares, so maybe everyone else was too. I’m going to take on a little three part project and review all the versions of IT. Next up will be the 1990 mini-series and then I’ll tackle the novel itself. Check back for part 2.

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© 2019 by Maximilian Gray
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