by Sherry Lipp
The Lowdown: Decent, but somewhat uneven, update on the Stephen King coming-of-age-meets-killer-clown classic.
Never seems to be any shortage of Stephen King movie adaptations. There are two currently in theaters right now, fall 2017: It and The Dark Tower. There have been over 50 movie adaptations of King short stories and novels starting with Carrie in 1976. His work is popular, but anyone familiar with the 40+ years worth of material knows these adaptations can be hit and miss. Director Andy Muschietti’s It falls somewhere in the middle. It’s well made, takes itself seriously, features fine performances from its young actors, and is engaging throughout. The downside is that it just feels a little empty. For a film that does take its themes seriously, it doesn’t end up seeming to be about anything other than a scary clown.
Set over the course of a year between 1988 and 1989 the film is a coming of age story of a group of young teens trying to get the most out of their first high school summer break. The teens are working through a lot of emotional baggage of varying degrees of severity. Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is dealing with an abusive father, Mike (Chosen Jacobs) with racism, and Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is trying to cope with grief and guilt over the death of his little brother George (Jackson Robert Scott). On the smaller scale is Stan (Wyatt Olef) who has disappointed his father in his lackadaisical preparation for his Bar Mitzvah, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) who has an overprotective mom, and Richie (Finn Wolfhard) who just seems a bit insecure. All of them are the target of vicious bullies, especially Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) who is smart and overweight, a combination the bullies just can’t stand.
These years are tough for all teenagers who are trying to work their way from childhood to adulthood, but things turn even worse when they begin to have unexplained visions of their deepest, darkest fears. The visions come out of nowhere and it’s a little surprising the ease with which the teens accept them. Yeah they’re weirded out by them, but they go on about their day in a pretty normal fashion. As a viewer we already know little George met his fate when he came across Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), the clown who was hiding in a storm drain. No one else (i.e. the actual characters) is privy to that information though, and the movie seems to forget that a little bit.
The first half of the film is riveting as the kids deal with their personal demons as well as the real-life ones. Stranger and stranger occurrences eventually make the group of friends realize that something is rotten in Denmark and they are surprised to learn they’ve all been experiencing the same thing. Once the friends determine that they need to kill “It,” the film is not as engrossing. Instead of being about the characters’ struggles, the film centers on the cat-and-mouse chase between the kids and the clown.
While there are plenty of unsettling moments, I didn’t find the film to be all that scary. There’s no nuance to the character of Pennywise. We know he wants to kill kids and there’s a vague notion that he feeds on fear and anger, but there’s no explanation as to why his appearances are so infrequent. He would seem to have the power to swoop in and kill all the kids he needs to satiate himself so he can hibernate for 27 years before doing it again. Why he spends a year picking off a few here and there is a mystery.
What the film needed was a real connection between the horrible historical events and the kids. With everything going on in their lives, the story could have essentially existed without Pennywise at all. They have to battle bullies, abusive and apathetic parents, as well as their own fears about growing up. Perhaps Pennywise was supposed to embody all those things, but unfortunately the film fails to make the connection.
That being said, It is still a worthwhile watch. I very much enjoyed the performances of the kids as well as the nicely captured late-‘80s look and feel—though the New Kids on the Block emphasis was a little bit of a head-scratcher. Fans of the book will probably find this to be a pretty decent adaptation even though it changes some the elements just a little too much. The film sets itself for a sequel (the book includes extensive material with the kids as grown-ups, completely omitted here) so there will likely be more Pennywise in the future.
It Images: New Line Cinema