It wasn’t scary enough.
That was the first thing I heard when the credits started rolling on Andy Muschietti’s IT. And it is true. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t scary. So read on to find out what I mean and to get the movie spoiled for you. Yes. Even though you, like everyone else, read the book when you were 15, you haven’t seen the movie, so you WILL get spoiled.
So I, like most people of my generation, grew up reading all of Stephen King’s books. And I remember specifically reading in the newspaper (King was in the Portland, Maine newspaper a lot) that he had written hundreds of pages of “It” and didn’t even know what it was about yet. No joke. And I think that is where I want to start with the movie review.
Don’t compare Stephen King movies to the Stephen King books. It is not fair to the books or the movies. And CERTAINLY don’t yap about how LONG the books are like it matters to the movie. The number of words he writes do not track well with film adaptations. Carrie is a tight book and I think both the original and remake movies were good. Dark Tower was a wobbly hunk of junk. IT is between those two. It is not the best King movie (Shawshank) or the worst (Lawnmower Man). I would call it a top five. But it really isn’t scary ENOUGH. Don’t get me wrong, it IS scary and It is good in a ton of other ways, too. And since it is about a gang, I will try to make up as many Always Sunny episode titles to explain scenes as I can.
The book had the kids set in the 50s and the adults in the 80s. I think repeating that for this movie would have made it virtually inaccessible to younger people. The 50s might as well be the Revolutionary War. And the 80s, even the late 80s are still far enough back that the way the kids act (which is crazy good, more on that later) must seem really foreign to Millennials.
Case in point: the (unneeded) scene where “The Gang Cleans Up the Bloody Bathroom” after IT manifests as a really creepy and unnerving stubborn hair clog in the sink drain.
So they make a big deal that Ritchie (the kid from Stranger Things is great as Ritchie) having to stay outside to be a lookout for Beverly’s abusive (physical and sexual) dad. So he just hung out with the bikes. No phone. Nothing to read. Basically he just probably had to draw in the dirt with a stick. The concept of nothing to do is foreign now. It was a part of life now.
And I also think that they can never ever remake this movie again. Kids have been exposed to so much now that I don’t even know what would scare them so. Battery at 2%? In the book, Ritchie was scared of werewolves because it was thr 50s. I thought for a second that they might use American Werewolf in London as the prompt but they just skipped it and made him afraid of clowns. The only pop culture inspired fear was excised. In a horror movie.
I am all for the time change and I am all for the adult version of the story being set in the here and now. They can do some things with that.
Bill Skarsgård owns the role. Tim Curry was pretty good but Bill Skarsgård is Pennywise now. His voice goes from horrifying squeak to unnerving gravel to baritone horror. He capers. He drools. He delivers his dialogue as a mystical force of evil should. Even when the dialogue is sort of dumb. The things they do with him make him more creepy but without his acting no amount of CGI could make it work.
Where is doesn’t work is in how Pennywise operates. He kills scared kids when they are alone. Except when Eddie goes to Niebolt Street he is alone and scared and Pennywise doesn’t get him. He also doesn’t get Bill in the basement even though he is alone and scared. It is inconsistent and it bothered me. Very possible that I missed something but it just seemed dumb. Either you are a demon or you are a guy. If you are a demon then you can hop over a fence to get Eddie.
I loved every one of them. They were funny. They swore all the time. They were love struck, heartsick, worried, fearful, goofy and everything they needed to be. huge part of what the story is about is that kids have terrible lives. And EVERY adult in the movie is shown as terrible. They even cut our Officer Nell, the good cop, mainly because they didn’t do the part where they build a dam because while the Losers were well acted they never got to just be kids.
More than one of them complains that it is summer and they should be having fun. And in the book, when they were making the dam in the Barrens, they were just playing. Having fun. None of that for our group. They swim (in their underwear for some reason because there were no bathing suits in 1989) long enough to show that they COULD have fun but then they immediately go into Scooby Doo mode because it is all gloom.
I might be being too hard on them but as good as they were playing the characters, some characters were super thin. Mike Hanlon didn’t seem to even live in the same town and for some reason his grandfather tells him not to be a sheep. He was also home schooled but we don’t find that out til way later. Ritchie is the only kid whose parents we don’t see and it doesn’t say why.
The Changes and Random Thoughts
Bullet list time!
- Yay for no turtle at the end. Straight up fighting Pennywise with bats was fun.
- Boo for no slingshot but no kid in 1989 had a slingshot so I get it.
- EVERY VISUAL CHOICE WAS GOLD!
- Part of the dread is how long Pennywise has been around and they could have done ONE flashback instead of having Ben relate it all.
- The slide show was not better than the scene from the book it replaced.
- Henry Bowers was a good psycho and why he was a psycho made sense and my gah he better be dead because him coming back in the second half was stupid.
- The kid who played Stan was great. He was also the first to leave the group at the end. FORESHADOWING!
- They could have used three short scenes to get the point that Ben was friendzoned across – too much movie was devoted to it.
- It could have been scarier. There were some jumps but they did not nail the dread. You didn’t know why Pennywise was even a thing. There was no REASON for it. They showed the Deadlights but didn’t explain them. And if you didn’t read the book maybe you wouldn’t care but it seemed like it was a miss.
- BOO BOO HISS BOO for the fact that the circle hand clasp they show in the trailer is a spoiler for people who have not read the book. It shows everyone together and they go into the sewers before that scene happens. Thus, you know everyone makes it out. Poor choice.
- The parts that don’t work are the pitfall of Stephen King movies. I will relate this below and give my final score.
When Good Stephen King Stories Go Bad
OK so I know you think about which Stephen King stories you like and which you don’t. And which movies work and which don’t. Dark Tower bombed and IT was missing something (though it is really good). In order to explain what is missing I need to use two movies that WORK.
Shawshank and Stand by Me are great. Needful Things was not great. Neither edition of Salem’s Lot is great. The Stand is not great. Why? Because King delivers facts in his books that cannot be delivered in an organic way in film. People LOVED reading about what happened at The Black Spot in the book. People loved reading about how the Super Flu spread in The Stand.
Some of the coolest stuff he writes is stuff that would be cool even if there was not more story around it. And it is RARELY character driven. It is background. Depth. Immersive. His worlds are old. Some have moved on.
So why do Shawshank and Stand By Me work when Needful Things didn’t? Because they had narrators. Information could be dumped on the viewer without having someone have to ACT it. We found out there was a mean dog in the junkyard in Stand by Me because the narrator told us. We found out about the Black Spot in IT because of unrealistic research done by a kid.
People tell writers to “show, don’t tell”. But with a narrator, you get to Tell and have it matter. Or you can bookend the cutaway with info that ties it to the story. You get to have your cake and eat it, too. This doesn’t always apply, but it does in a lot of King’s work and it would have worked here. IT fails when it doesn’t make you scared of Pennywise for reasons other than immediate peril. You don’t see WHY the town is so corrupted and you need to.
Oh, and here is my movie rating system from now on because I thought about it for 36 hours.
- Don’t even stream it when it is available
- Stream it but don’t waste time at the theater.
- See it if you want to go to the movies and not be disappointed.
- Must See so make sure you see it on the big screen.
- RIGHT NOW just stop reading and go to the movies.
IT is a MUST SEE