What are people most terrified of? If you look to conventional western horror films for clarification, the answer is seemingly loud spooky noises that follow drawn out periods of silence. Alternatively, if you ask any person who is not a clown, the answer is probably clowns. The newest adaptation of Stephen King’s It combines these two fears to surprisingly dull effect and creates a horror film that is light on both scares and heart.
The story of It follows “The Losers,” a band of misfits who are constantly getting picked on by bullies (who could more accurately be described as sociopaths, but more on that later). One of these Losers, Billy, is haunted by his brother’s disappearance the year before, and is obsessed with finding him. This sets up a very Stephen King-esq coming of age story, which serves mostly as a vehicle for the plot. Most of the young actors do a fine job, but are occasionally rough, and more than occasionally set up for failure by the script. The true victim of the shoddy screenwriting is anybody in the film over the age of thirty. All of the parents in Derry, Maine serve as little more than exposition dumping cardboard cutouts in a vaguely dad-like shape, or as a creepy incestuous rapist who is so blatantly evil right from the get-go that it is almost comical. However, this did end up creating my favorite character of the entire film: the taunting librarian that I have decided to call Maude. She exists within the film for the express purpose of shaming the poor fat kid for having no friends and being in the library instead of outside with his frie- oh wait, that’s right, he has no friends. Thanks for reminding us Maude. With dialogue like “A boy your age should be spending summer outside with his friends. What’s the matter? Don’t have any friends?” how could you not love her? Oh Maude.
Another sore point is that apparently the director grew up in a town where it’s totally normal for bullies to literally carve their name into your stomach, bash you in the skull with a rock, or almost run you over with a car as a prank. Seriously, all of this actually happened in the film, and nobody seemed to think anything of it other than “Oh! That darn bully is at it again!” Perhaps Pennywise the dancing clown isn’t the real menace in Derry after all.
Speaking of Pennywise, he probably got the best part of this entire deal. Many of his scenes are genuinely unsettling, with the mixture of practical effects and CGI working wonders to make an already spooky clown even spookier. This having been said, he does fall into the category of horror movie villains who toy with their prey for literally no reason for ages before actually hurting them, which immediately pulls me out of the film and kills any tension the scene has built. It is possible that this can be explained away by the idea that he feeds off of the fear of children, but then I have to question why he went out of his way to make Georgie (from the beginning) laugh and feel totally comfortable before chomping him. If you have to do mental acrobatics like this in order to force your movie to make sense, then there’s probably something amiss. Most of the scares that you do get are of the jump variety, with a few notable exceptions that I will avoid spoiling. Also, I feel it’s worth mentioning that there is a scene where Pennywise dances, and I actually laughed out loud in the theater. I think it was meant to be taken seriously, but it was genuinely hysterical.
None of this is to say that It is a particularly bad movie, rather it is a frustrating one. Looking at some of the camera work and the effects, it isn’t hard to imagine this as becoming a modern horror classic. It is just held back from that level of greatness by some truly weak dialogue, occasionally uneven performances, and over-reliance on jump scares. There are a number of sequences that I thoroughly enjoyed, especially one involving a projector, which again, I will not spoil here. At the end of the day, It is probably worth the ticket price, but don’t expect brilliance, or to have your proverbial socks scared off. I enjoyed it (heh) enough to give it a general recommendation, but it is hard for me not to wish that the quality of the script, acting, and atmosphere had lived up to the direction and effects. But hey, if you’re into clowns, this is the best you’ve got until that new Tom Cruise movie comes out in a couple of weeks.
Edit: 11/12/17 – Score lowered from a 6/10 to a 5/10.