Friday, 15 September 2017

It (2017)

I understand that this new film version of the Stephen King blockbuster (aka doorstop) is doing amazing business worldwide. I'm not surprised, since King is one of the most popular and best-selling living authors and there is at least a generation now who have never seen the 1990 two-part television mini-series of the novel. Subsequently there is a widespread suggestion that this movie is an instant cult-classic, resplendent with scary chills. I'm not so certain.

I certainly enjoyed watching the film -- all 132 minutes of it! However catering to modern tastes it struck me that there is an over-reliance on CGI effects without really managing to make the movie any more frightening than its original, unadorned concept: a shape-shifting demon, usually manifesting itself as the friendly-cum-threatening clown Pennywise is feeding off childhood fears resulting in a plethora of missing or mangled kiddies. Right, the story itself is eerie, but there is little here in the way of 'jump-scares'.

Unlike the book and the previous dramatization, the movie focuses on the seven youngsters who make up the 'Losers Club' and their campaign to destroy the demon -- stuttering Bill, fatty Ben, motor-mouth Richie, Munchhausen-by-proxy victim Eddie, Black Mike, Jewish Stanley, and the token girl/honorary boy Bev. The casting is excellent particularly with Jaeden Lieberher (first seen in 1914's "St Vincent") as Bill whose brother Georgie was one of the first victims, Jeremy Ray Taylor as Chubby Ben who has been studying their town of Derry's periodic history of disappearances and tragedies, and Sophia Lillis' Bev, a mini-Amy Adams, which would make the casting perfect for the sign-posted second part of this saga. The kids have great chemistry together, and as in another King adaptation "Stand by Me" there are a bunch of slightly older and slightly bigger bullies out to make their lives a misery. How the group sticks together, outwits the bullies, and banishes the Demon (albeit temporarily as implied) make this movie more of a boys' own adventure story ('the best summer of my life' says one) rather than a straightforward horror movie. Yes, there are Pennywise's gnashing teeth and occasional buckets of blood, but it's far from scary.

By the end of the movie the seven have vowed to return to Derry if and when the Demon reappears in its 27-year cycle, setting us up for a follow-up film featuring the grown-up kids. This is the big difference between the current movie and the original book and mini-series, which cut between the childhood buddies and the seven adults they have become, and which I think gives us a much greater insight into all of their characters than this 'Part One movie' allows. It's crucial to understand how the child becomes the man (or the woman in Bev's case) and how some fears and patterns of behaviour remain deeply ingrained. It's something of a cheat to expect us to sit through a second film when the two stories were previously successfully intertwined and could have been done so here.

Nevertheless it's a good movie and deserves to be popular, but it is certainly not the best King adaptation ever. Granted his novels have produced some rather iffy movies. but "The Green Mile" and "The Shawshank Redemption" would easily vie for 'the best'. Bill Skarsgard adequately fills the over-sized Pennywise shoes originally worn by Tim Curry, but despite the extra rows of teeth, he is not any more frightening.  We all realise that clowns are creepy at the best of times!
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