“You want it to float, don’t you?”
Stephen King’s IT is one of my favourite novels. I could read it over and over again until the end of time. The first adaptation of the novel, the 1990 TV miniseries, failed to do the novel justice, despite a great performance by Tim Curry as the novel’s main horror, Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Twenty seven years later, we have been given a full-on Hollywood film adaptation (or, more accurately, a two part film adaptation). Does it do the novel justice? More importantly, does it deliver true horror? My answers to both questions are uncertain. There’s too much cut from the novel to do it justice (even given that it only tells the story of the children, not the children as adults). It also relies too much on jump scares and delivers an uneven tone throughout the film…
For those not familiar with the novel, IT is a story about a terrible evil haunting the town of Derry. It takes the guise of Pennywise, the Dancing Clown, as it feeds on the children on the town (literally and metaphorically). Seven children, collectively known as The Loser’s Club, realise they are the only people who can stop IT. Cue a tale of growing up, losing innocence and dealing with worst fears. Those are the basics. The novel tells the story of the children as children, and also the children as adults. The TV miniseries split the story into two parts, the first about the children and the second about the children as adults. The film adaptation does the same. Here, in Chapter One, we have the children’s story.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the first part of the IT TV miniseries was the better part. Showing children in a position of danger is easy; plus Tim Curry rocked it as Pennywise. As for the second part…the less said the better. So, in theory, the film has it easy. It’s easy to involves horror and children, isn’t it? Now, it’s hard for me to judge the film on its own merits. I constantly compared the film to the novel in my head, which posed as a distraction occasionally. But I did my best, and judged it as a horror/coming of age film.
“You’ll float too…”
On both counts, it’s an uneven story. The first act is nothing more than a series of jump scares; each member of the Loser’s Club has their own “horrifying” experience with Pennywise. It takes the guise of people’s biggest fear, but all this results in is each Loser having a similar build-up to a jump scare. We barely know the characters! It’s especially jarring with Mike. He’s the last to join the Loser’s Club, and the Loser we see the least. Yet his jump scare comes first. After that, we don’t see him for about half an hour! It’s bewildering to follow.
Only after that do we get to know the Losers as a group and individually. Well, I say individually: only two or three of the Losers feel like fleshed out characters (Bill, Beverly and Richie). The others feel like bare sketches that I had to fill in the blanks with my knowledge of the novel. That’s a shame (and part of the reason why I think IT deserves a proper TV series adaptation). However, as a group, the Losers have great chemistry. As a group, they feel like they do in the novel. Even with bare sketches, the Losers make a loveable rogue group. When the film relaxes on the jump scares after the first act and the film focuses on the Losers Club that I enjoyed the film the most.
In the TV miniseries, Pennywise made the biggest impact. Here, the Loser’s Club make the biggest impact. Like Stand By Me, or any memorable coming-of-age film, the kids act like kids. They all put on performances that feel genuine and likeable. I cared for them and their travails. Their isolation and discontent with the ignorant adults increased our sympathy for them. The true terror of IT is the overt ignorance of the adults to what’s occurring in Derry. When children go missing, the adults choose to ignore it. When Ben is assaulted by bullies, a couple drive past, looking on but not stopping. Edd’s mother metaphorically suffocates him, Bill’s dad ignores him after his brother goes “missing.” That’s how scary our world can be: when people look at evil and choose to ignore it. That’s how evil spreads. That’s the real sense of dread in IT. But we have to have horror for the masses as well, don’t we?
“Kill them all”
As for the other horror of IT, Pennywise? Yes, he looks scary, but he’s mostly involved with jump scares that involve a weird CGI background that detracts from the scare. I found the effect disorientating, but not in a positive way. There are moments where Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise evokes serious menace, but they don’t have the frills of CGI. He’s creepy enough on his own; he doesn’t require all the razzle-dazzle around him. There are some unsettling and grotesque images on the screen, undoubtedly. But they are intertwined with the dodgy CGI most of the time.
To answer my first question of whether or not IT does the novel justice, I say maybe. The novel centres on the relationship between the Loser’s Club, and from that point of view the film is a minor success. True, we only get to know a few of the kids well, but as a unit that make us laugh and reminisce on our times as children. The coming-of-age aspect is well-written, if undermined by the uneven tone of the film. As for the horror of IT? That’s less of a success. Too many jump scares during the first act make a mockery of any horror, and from that point on the horror almost creeps up on you. But poor CGI and more jump scares deprive us of true horror. Skarsgard as Pennywise is creepy, but just like the film, his horror is only skin deep. Colour me disappointed.
Who’s the best Pennywise: Curry or Skarsgard?!?!
VERDICT: 5/10. IT works more as a coming of age story than a straight forward horror. While the jump scares are decent, they are just that: jump scares. True horror is often left by the wayside. There are hints of subtle horror, but they are few and far between.
What did you think of IT (2017)? Leave your thoughts/comments below!
Click here for my review of Stephen King’s IT (The 1990 TV miniseries!)
Click here for my review of Stephen King’s IT (The Book!)
Great review. I’m going to see this tomorrow.
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Cheers! I think my love of the novel clouded my viewing experience. I hope you have a better experience
I agree the film works much better as a coming of age story. In fact it was this that really got me on my second viewing and really drew me in.What I don’t agree with is all the people saying it relied only on jump scares. Personally I don’t think it did at all. Yes there were jumps in the film but they were not the important part. For example there is a jump at the end of Mike’s encounter but that’s not the scare. The scare was the imagery he was subjected to. I also do not believe there are jumpscares in Stan, Eddie or Bev’s first encounters with IT. They are all built up around nightmarish imagery personal to the character. Stan and Ben’s scenes in particular are a gradual built up of creepiness. A jump scare for me would be Pennywise jumping out and saying boo without any prior warning or reason. There is nothing like that in the film. The 1990 miniseries has its fair share of equivalent jumpscare material (not least the amount of times a character turns around and a balloon is right there!) The cgi did not detract me from the movie. My focus on Pennywise was on Skarsgård’s performance and for me he nailed it. Some added questionable special effects are not going to ruin that for me.
For the first twenty minutes, they squeezed in jump scares to tell the audience what scared the kids, rather than show us what scared the kids and then have Pennywwise target their worst fears. And it was one after the other without a break. It was exhausting and boring at the same time.