Is there something wrong with me? I ask myself that all the time, but more specifically, I’m asking that question in relation to Stephen King’s IT (the recent adaptation of the book!). IT has broken box office records, and the majority of people seem to like it. Some even love it. Why am I among the few who didn’t like it? Did I miss something? I know everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it concerns me when the majority is against me. So here is a spoiler-filled dissection of my feelings about IT.
Of course, I explained how I felt in my spoiler-free review (click here to check out my review), but let’s go into detail here. Why was the film moved to the 80s? To cash in on the 80s nostalgia that’s in vogue? To cash in on the Stranger Things vibe that everybody loves? It didn’t add anything to the narrative apart from a rather humorous New Kids on the Block gag. Yes, we saw that Batman and Lethal Weapon were on at the cinema, but the story may as well have taken place in the 50s for all the difference it made. Would kids still be playing with paper boats in the 80s? It could be argued that the monsters that scared kids in the 50s wouldn’t scare kids in the 80s (the mummy, the werewolf etc pop up in the novel). But no other monsters specific to that period of time were added (I’m thinking of Freddy Kruger, or any horror movie villains who would be familiar to the kids).
Speaking of the kids, in my review I mentioned that only a few of the Loser’s Club were given enough screen time and character development. One character who was criminally underserved in the film was Mike. His role in the book was the group historian, who traced Pennywise through the history of Maine. In the film, this role was given to Ben, for some reason. That left Mike to pop up every now and again without adding anything to the group. I hate to say this, but he felt like the token black character. Not only that, but he was totally changed from the book. I don’t necessarily disagree with changing character in film adaptations, but Mike was left with nothing to do apart from hold a bolt gun.
Not only that, but one major plot line in the book about Mike is his struggle against being black in a small town in 50s America. Racism is a major part of his storyline. In the book, the n-word is used against him plenty of times. Now, in the film the bullies refer to him as an outsider plenty of times, but I assumed that was because Mike lived outside of Derry. His race isn’t mentioned, and neither is the n-word. We know that although America was a little more enlightened when it comes to racial issues in the 80s than it was in the 50s, racism was (and still is) about. Having Mike face racial discrimination would be something that would resonate in these times. Instead, Mike is just there to be the token black character (the same lack of discrimination can be pointed towards the Jewish kid Stan, as well).
Ben may be the historian, but we learn precious little about how Pennywise is involved with the history of Derry. Yes, there are hints throughout the film, but that’s about it. In the novel, Pennywise is an inter-dimensional god-like creature of pure evil. He increases the bigotry, hatred and violence already present in Derry. We don’t really get a sense of Derry in the film. We see a few landmarks that those who’ve read the novel will remember. But in the novel, Derry is part of the evil of Pennywise. Understanding the history of Derry gives the understanding that the kids aren’t just fighting a clown, but a cosmic evil (of course, this could be rectified in the sequel. But all the same, I didn’t feel the menace of the town itself).
One of the biggest problems I had with IT was the ending. Of course, it would be difficult to translate the book’s resolution for the children to the screen. It involves inter-dimensional planes and turtles that choke on galaxies. However, one simple element that the children use to defeat Pennywise in the book is the power of silver. Pennywise appears to one of the Loser’s Club as a werewolf, so the Club believe that only a silver bullet can kill Pennywise. It’s their belief that is the key here. In the film, George kills his supposed little brother and the Loser’s Club literally batter Pennywise to (half) death. Yes, the Loser’s Club face their individual fears, but in the end they simply batter Pennywise. Wouldn’t it have been more potent and a little more subtle if the kids had fought Pennywise off by only fighting their fears? I’m sure the audience would understand if Pennywise showed physical pain every time one of the kids refused to be afraid.
And I’m still wondering why the film took the phrase “we all float down here” literally. We see the victims of Pennywise’s killing spree floating around a pile of their belongings. I loved the pile of belongings, but why were they floating? How long had they been there for? How could Pennywise feed off their fear if they were dead? Doesn’t he literally feed on their bodies? What happened to all the bodies when the Loser’s Club defeated Pennywise?
This obsession with taking things literally and lacking much subtlety plagued IT. First of all, Pennywise looked like a scary clown. What kid wouldn’t be scared by him? If I was little Georgie and the new Pennywise looked at me out of a gutter, I’d run a mile! If it was a more friendly looking clown, I’d stop to chat to it (maybe…just maybe). The jump scares were telegraphed like every other horror movie. Yes, I’ll admit I was disturbed a few times, but nothing lasted. Everything was spoiled by the film’s desire to tell you that you should be scared. And that doesn’t work for me. I shouldn’t need to be told when to be scared. I should just be scared without a loud noise or a sudden appearance of a monster. That’s probably what disappointed me the most about IT. I was promised a return to true horror. But what I received was a repeat of modern horror, full of jump scares and lacking subtle terror.
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Click here to read my spoiler-free review of Stephen King’s IT (2017)
Click here to read my review of Stephen King’s IT (1990)
Click here to read my review of Stephen King’s IT (The Book!)