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Stephen King films are like buses. You wait ages for one, and then two come at once. After the lacklustre reception to The Dark Tower, it comes down to the other to prove that King still has it in him to chill us. Lucky for him, that this next film is based off what many consider his Magnum Opus; It. I have read the book and I have even seen the miniseries from way back when. Both gave me the same feeling; a warm, rose-red feeling that marked them both as special; hatred! I have hated every incarnation of It so far. To me, while not without moments, the book was a jarring mess of tonal inconsistencies and an over-abundance of unnecessary descriptions and subplots. The miniseries had the legendary Tim Curry in the spotlight, but that was really all it had going for it. No, I do not like It, and was not jumping with joy to know that yet another version was being made.
So, what is the story of 2017’s It? The film follows a group of seven friends, lovingly named The Losers. They all have their quirks and issues but are mostly good kids, who’s only fear is wrathful parents and psychotic bullies. That is until they all start seeing things. Their worst nightmares come true. Children are missing, presumed dead. And at the centre of it all is a solitary figure; a clown. Finding that they are the only ones who can stop this being, The Losers must face their own fears and inner demons to stop this child-killing presence before they are next.
King was onto something with this story, and it really broke my heart to have such an extreme negative response to it. The trailers and advertisements to this film didn’t help either, it looked too silly to me. It wasn’t until I saw the positive reviews that I got interested. And now that I have seen it I find myself both understanding this reception, and yet feeling a little confused by it too.
It is easily one of the best Stephen King films I have ever seen. I might actually call it the best King film since The Shawshank Redemption. Director Andy Muschietti, who directed the thrilling Mama, did a good job of bringing the story to life and focusing the story, making us never lose sight of what is going on. It is shot beautifully, succeeding in being both visually interesting and dread filled. Accompanying this is a pretty strong script that in my eyes improves on the source material. There are plenty of changes to the book, but it always feels pretty faithful too. Key moments are brought from page to screen very effectively; from the storm-drain scene to the moment when the bully starts carving his name into the fat kid. With that we also get some new additions. Some really work, and some don’t.
But what makes It so special is that we have a horror movie getting the blockbuster treatment. That doesn’t happen anymore, and I’m so glad that we are bringing it back. Despite this blockbuster status, It still feels unique. It has a definite style and is very artistic in some regards. There is a feeling that this is a film from the 1980’s which really matches the film’s setting. We have that feeling we got from films like Gremlins, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Evil Dead and The Thing gave us, and that the show Stranger Things revitalised. With that, we also have the darkness and camp of those aforementioned films gave us, as well as the heart despite itself.
At the centre of all of this is the acting. Child actors are always a gamble, there is no denying it. But, continuing with the recent trend of child actors in Hollywood today, all seven of these kids are really good. Bill, Rich and Eddy’s characters in particular; however, it is easily the actress who plays Beverly who steals the show. Beverly is easily the best character in this film. She captures the heart and soul of the character and is completely believable and she engages you with her character. This is helped by the fact that her scenes with her father – who is implied to be molesting her – are the scariest and most haunting of the entire film. I even thought that the actors who played the one-dimensional bullies were great in their roles too. So, a good story well told, great acting and interesting characters; all we need now is for It to be scary and it had succeeded…oh.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some creepy moments – like the drain scene, the slides, the painting and especially the library – but the film suffers from its own tonal inconsistencies. It’s partly a horror film about a killer stalking kids, with some creepy imagery throughout. But it also feels like Stand By Me and The Goonies in moments and then other times it becomes The Evil Dead, with an over-the-top nature to it. It’s because of this I found It to be more hilarious than scary. I heard praise for how scary the storm drain was, but the build up to the kill had me sniggering at it. The same happened again when they search for It in what I can only describe as Freddy Kruger’s house from Dream Warriors. Like I thought it would be, I found it all too silly to be scary. There’s a sense of Muschietti trying too hard to get a scream that he is rewarded with a laugh.
While we are on the subject of laughing, I think it’s time to talk about Pennywise the Dancing Clown. My praise goes to Bill Skarsgard. This must have been a hard role to play, not to mention the weight on his shoulders from fan expectations. Yet he pulled it off. We have a good performance for our villain, I have nothing bad to say about the actor. The clown himself on the other hand… I heard that he was scary; that unlike Tim Curry, this was not a silly clown, but a monster who will fuel your nightmares for days to come. I couldn’t disagree more. This clown was hilarious! The design is cartoony. The way he talks, a deliberate alien way to us, made me chuckle. The things that he does and say are akin to Kruger and the demons from The Evil Dead. I loved him for the fun he brought to the film. In a strange way, while this is the better film, I do think that Tim Curry played the scarier clown. Yes, Curry joked a lot, but when he was silent he was hair-raisingly chilling. Because he looked like a clown, there was this creeper aspect to him; an uncomfortable reminder of John Wayne Gacy that made him more terrifying. This clown looks like a monster, and sadly monsters aren’t scary.
It is actually called It Chapter One, with a hopeful second part on the way very soon. So for those who get confused by the ending, that’s why. To be fair, if there was any book that should be split into two films it’s It, with its 1,100 odd pages. I was pleasantly surprised by It and would gladly see It again. Horror films have their work cut out for them this year now. Not perfect, by any means, and certainly more silly than scary, but it never fails to entertain. With how well it’s doing I think that Chapter Two is assured. After witnessing this, I wait for it with baited but eager breath.