Get Over ‘It’ (Movie Review)

There’s a lot of anticipation out there for It, the best-selling horror novel by Stephen King that doubles as a pronoun-based nightmare for writers explaining the story. It’s understandable, as so much iconography has come out of this novel, let alone various forms of media devoted to tales of children dealing with trauma in different forms. Now, 2017’s It doubles as the first cinematic attempt to bring this story to the big screen, as well as a kind of nostalgia for King fans and those who have been primed over the years with movies and TV shows from Donnie Darko to Stranger Things. The problem is, this film can only go so far since it chooses to do little more than crank up the volume when it’s time to be scary.

The story follows a group of outcast kids during the summer of 1989. A series of missing children has their hometown of Derry hit with a curfew. This started with the disappearance of a young boy named Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), who had a fateful encounter (that’s putting it lightly) with a creepy figure known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard). As the outcast kids (“The Losers Club”) try to spend their summer having fun and avoiding a group of sinister bullies, Pennywise begins to terrorize them, using the kids’ personal demons against them.

If there’s something to highlight, it is the children. While they are not all well-developed (the 1990 TV miniseries is surprisingly more accomplished in handling them as individuals), there is a sense of comradery that pays off in seeing the energy on screen. Sophia Lillis’ Beverly and Jeremy Ray Taylor’s Ben are clear standouts, but even if Wyatt Oleff’s Stanley fades into the background too often or Finn Wolfhard’s Richie seems to be overacting the obnoxiousness, you get the idea that these kids like each other, because they are all they have.

Kudos also goes towards how the film portrays the real issues some of these preteens are dealing with. Jaeden Lieberher’s stuttering Bill is drained by the loss of his younger brother. Beverly has a hostile father with unsettling urges waiting to leap out. The bullies, led by Nicholas Hamilton’s sociopathic Henry Bowers, become a rough threat for Ben and Chosen Jacobs’ Mike. These are uncomfortable aspects of the story that find It at its most effective levels of tension, compared to the jack-in-the-box tactics employed by director Andy Muschietti (Mama) when it comes to seeing Pennywise on the prowl.

I’m all for a good jump scare, but given the source material (a 1,000+ page book that I have not read, but am familiar enough with), much of the scariness is derived from the abstract evil represented by this dancing clown.  Combining that with the anxiety faced by the kids could easily build an effective horror movie with atmosphere, with the occasional release coming through via a sudden jolt. It’s a shame, as It feels like a derivative take on movies involving multiple, obviously scary locations, with things popping out of the shadows as you’d expect. Add in Benjamin Wallfisch’s thunderous score and the extra loud sound design, and you have a film that fits right in with the mainstream horror fare that decided it would be best to keep everything in overdrive in exchange for real, lingering frights.

I can’t help but think how writer and initial director Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) would have handled the unfolding of horror, though it’s best not to speculate on the “what if’s.” Instead, I once again see Muschietti undercutting his potential by loading up his horror moments with CG creations and occasionally non-threatening makeup designs that rely on constant screaming and blaring noises to distract from what one is actually seeing. Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography may find places here or there to provide some interesting angles, but with so much sensory overload functioning as the principal way to deliver the horror, I hardly felt like I was floating with a cinematic maestro who understands dread.

Moments of effective horror, in the supernatural sense, do emerge. An opening sequence involving a rainy day finds the film’s only real sequence of terror, as things have a chance to build effectively. An eventual reveal of where Pennywise dwells has the production design team finally getting an opportunity to go wild. There are also scenes where Skarsgard gets to be menacing without the assistance of special effects. Given the 135-minute runtime, I’ll take what I can get in a film that is both in a hurry and taking its time (a montage at the end of the 2nd act is a particularly odd choice, considering how threat levels should be higher than ever).

King fans will likely find plenty to grasp onto regarding references to the source material and other King classics. However, with a barrage of jump scares, blunt dialogue and a bland monster battle, It needed more than a few endearing child actor performances to be a great first entry of a two-part horror epic. As It stands, the work done to make the metaphor for childhood fears coming to life takes weird shape. It’s louder than it is scary but emotional enough to have you care about this episodic portrayal of kids in peril. Maybe the sequel will quit clowning around and move on from what we’ve seen since It arrived.


2 Responses to “Get Over ‘It’ (Movie Review)”

  1. Gregg

    I think my feelings on this film are somewhere in between yours and Brian’s. I was definitely entertained, but my biggest complaint is that this film just ran far too long. There was so much time that suffered from treadmill-itis. It just ran in place and didn’t do much to advance the story. I agree that the final battle was a little bit ‘meh’. Personally I thought the most gripping part of the film was in the first ten minutes. The movie ends up having its peaks and valleys from there. I say chop about 25 minutes off this film to help with flow. Personally, I’d give this a rating of 3 to 3.5 stars.

  2. Bron Anderson

    I saw “It” last night and I pretty much agree with you on every point you made. Every “scary” moment is ruined by the overactive sound design. The screaming violins suck all of the suspense out of the film. The first hour and a half (after the awesome intro) is just a cavalcade of “this kid gets scared in this environment” scenes that feel disconnected. Since we get the sense early on that the kids are going to mention seeing It to each other, it feels like forever until even one of them says “hey guys, you ever notice that murderous clown that is always trying to get you?” And the kids never really seem to have a sense of urgency until the very end. That cleaning montage; what?!

    You are not alone. I would have given it a 1.5 and lumped it in to my continued screeds against modern horror and its penchant for jump scare nonsense. Stay strong!