Movies and TV Reviews

It 2017 – nostalgia and criticism

The 1990 miniseries adaptation if It was my gateway into the horror genre. I was too young at the time to see it as a coming-of-age story that unfairly gave physical form to the terrors each individual faced growing up. Indeed, if my mother had realised that the blood exploding from Beverly’s bathroom sink was a metaphor for the dread of menstruation and the implications of impending womanhood in the face of a possessively protective single father, I don’t think that twelve-year-old David and his three siblings (youngest age five) would have been allowed to go anywhere near it.

I haven’t watched Tim Curry’s outstanding performance as Pennywise since the 90s, but It has always been a standard that I hold all other horror up to, and while I’m not a fan of Hollywood’s obsession with reboots, remakes, and sequels, I was excited and curious to see how it would turn out. Overall, I had a good time. Well, I can’t really say that. My relationship with horror is such that I tend to look away at the most tense or violent moments. I stay and watch despite myself. Overall, my objectives in watching the film were fulfilled.

Brave the spoilers below at your peril…

The film (I’m not sure how much longer I can keep using the word ‘it’ as either the title or pronoun) plays an interesting double chord for me: in addition to the nostalgia of returning to my first horror flick, it moves the childhood component of the story up to the 80s, with the trappings of fashion, movies and music tricking on my memory too. In some ways, I identify even more with these kids than I did when I was the twelve-year-old watching a story featuring twelve-year-olds.

Advances in technology have also allowed the film to better realise the setting and its monster. Unfortunately, I think this freedom allowed for some laziness in terms of narrative and character development. I found the pacing to relentlessly drive tension upwards. Moments of downtime, character development and exposition were ruined with the regular intrusion of Pennywise into the scene. Maybe it was intended to keep the Losers on their feet, but I found it profoundly irritating as an audience member; if I’m not allowed to re-establish my feet, then the fresh instability won’t actually be much of a surprise. The film relies more on jump scares than actual terror, and while my memory is hazy and possibly tainted by nostalgia, I think the miniseries does a better job in regulating that tension.

The modern adaptation had some trouble the number of characters. The point of view is definitely third-party omniscient, and though it switches between focal characters pretty freely, it privileges some characters disproportionately. I found the characters of Billy, Beverly and Henry Bowers accessible. They get quite a lot of screen time and development. In a second stratum are Ben and Eddie, who are adequately differentiated (the first is a timid fat kid, and the other an asthmatic hypochondriac). Mike stands out because he’s black, but other than a gruesome backstory (his parents burned alive in the room next to him), I found the character pretty much forgettable. At the bottom are Richie and Stan. Um. One is Jewish and approaching his bar mitzvah. I cannot remember which of the two, or what the other’s defining trait was. One of those two was definitely the one that stood up to Bill and had a punch-up with him.

The fact that I can name all of them can be ascribed to my attachment to the miniseries. At the risk of suggesting something that annoys fans of works that get adapted, this is inefficient. I know that the Losers Club take solace in numbering lucky seven, and find strength in the size of their group, but if the film isn’t going to invest in developing its main characters, then maybe some need to be merged or collapsed. The alternative would be to sacrifice some time spent on the visually delightful scary scenes, adapting them to deliver more intense and effective character development.

I’ve left off discussing the experience of watching It. I complained about the number of jump scenes not because I dislike them; like most horror fans, I enjoy being scared. Rather, I prefer quality over quantity. With seven kids in the Losers Club and three bullies, Pennywise has a lot of ground to cover in scaring teenagers witless. The standout “solo” scene in both the 1990 and 2017 adaptation is Beverly’s scene.

It’s an, err, tasteful use of blood that balances metaphor and spectacle all at once. In someways, it may not even be as scary as Ben’s chase through the library basement, or Stanley’s lady with the flute, but I think I’ll remember that explosion of blood to the end of my days. It’s one of the few scenes that is resolved by the rest of the group, instead of being bottled up by the kid in question. The final two confrontations in the house on Neibolt Street are great. I enjoyed watching It divide and conquer the puny children, and for them to realise the power of their unity. The first confrontation plays wonderfully with haunted house tropes.

Finally, there’s Pennywise. Tim Curry was outstanding in 1990. He taught me that the connection between absurd (because that’s what clowns are) and horrific is stronger than one might think. Clown makeup is alienating, and Curry’s performance will always be an iconic masterpiece. Bill Skarsgård delivers a much more straightforward and intense monster. What Pennywise has lost in 2017 is made up for in the very visceral direct interactions he has with his victims. The first time you see It bite someone, you’ll curl up into a little ball. That is no way for anybody to go. I love it.

Ultimately, I think that there are some moments of brilliance to It (2017), but it’s a much more straightforward monster film. I’m looking forward to Chapter 2, but not going to chase any spoilers for it.