Running Time: 135 minutes
Director: Andrés Muschietti
Cast: Bill Skarsgård , Jaeden Lieberher , Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis and Finn Wolfhard
A group of bullied kids band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.
After months of hype, record-breaking trailers and ringing endorsements from Stephen King himself, Andrés Muschietti’s big-screen adaptation of It has finally arrived in cinemas, but does the film deliver on all its terrifying potential?
Well for me my honest is answer no, but that’s probably because I’d fallen victim to all the pre-release hype and that’s why I’ve been left feeling so disappointed. Hype is such a terribly double-edged sword; you only need to look at some viewers’ reaction to La La Land when you hype something into a frenzy before its release.
Don’t get me wrong It is a perfectly serviceable horror film, but I just wanted something a little bit more substantial than just another formulaic, run-of-the-mill ‘ghost train’ of a horror movie.
Like so many mainstream horror movies Muschietti’s film, is guilty of an over-reliance on the quiet, quiet, loud noise jump scare approach and even with all the nasty onscreen violence that’s dished out throughout the film, I can’t say I was ever scared!
Clinging to the novel like a wet blanket
Other than the lack of any real scares my central problem with the film is that it clings to the source material like a wet blanket. It’s a faithful adaptation of King’s novel, well the first part anyway, but it’s afraid to do anything really substantial with the text: it’s like watching Brett Ratner’s adaptation of Tomas Harris’ Red Dragon when I wanted something more like Michael Mann’s Manhunter.
To date my favourite adaptation of any of King’s novels has been Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, whilst the author himself never liked the film, I’ve always felt that Kubrick tried to do something with the text when he brought it to the big screen. His version of The Shining is much more psychological than the novel and it’s all the better for it.
We just don’t get that here, Muschietti’s film simply throws all the nastiness contained within King’s novel onto the big screen in the hope that it will scare us: but no matter how scary they think those creatures might be, they’ll never match the imagery a reader could conjure up within their own imagination whilst reading the book.
That’s not to say the film is all bad, it’s a faithful adaptation of the source material and works best when it’s focused upon the younger cast members, the self-titled losers club. They’ve great chemistry together and shifting the time period from the 1950s to the 1980s makes them much more relatable.
The focus on the younger cast will draw obvious comparisons with some of Steven Spielberg’s earlier work, both as a director and producer and even Stranger Things; the Duffer Brothers after all were at one point attached to this project whilst it sat in pre-production hell.
It feels as if the film is more comfortable as a coming of age drama drama than an outright horror movie, we get a real sense of the angst our young protagonists are going through as they prepare to enter their teenage years, but it just so happens they’re also facing off against a terrifying homicidal clown in the process,
Pennywise the dancing clown
Bill Skarsgård gives a strong performance as Pennywise, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Tim Curry from the original TV mini-series. I know, I know I shouldn’t really compare the two, but that’s like asking me to say I never saw the original Ghostbusters before watching the remake. Curry gave a much more rounded performance than Skarsgård, switching from goofy humour to terrifying menace with relative ease and that’s why his portrayal was so unsettling.
Physically Skarsgård’s Pennywise is much, much scarier than Curry’s, almost too scary, why would any right-minded child ever want to go bloody near him in the first place? It feels as if they’ve tried to off-set that menace by giving Pennywise an overly cutesy-cutesy voice, one that sounds like a twisted Hanna-Barbera creation from hell. It just didn’t work for me, but I’m sure it will for others.
I know as a critic I should review the film in front of me rather than moan about the film I wanted to see, but I just can’t help it with this film. I’d genuinely hoped for something more here. I wish it would’ve explored the more psychological elements of King’s novel rather than play like out like any other generic horror movie.
At times the film threatens to do so, like explore a major aspect of the novel that the townspeople of Derry are unwittingly complicit with what’s happening to the children in their town, but it never tackles this issue with any real conviction.
The easy part’s done, now for the hard part!
In many ways this film has had a relatively easy task, even the TV mini-series which I love dearly struggled with the latter stages of King’s novel. It all becomes a little too complicated when the members of the losers club return to their hometown as adults to discover what Pennywise really is.
It’ll be interesting to see how they tackle this in the next film, after we’ve invested so much time with the younger cast here. One thing the mini-series got right was to tell the first part of the story through flashback, it’s a clever narrative device that introduced the older cast members much earlier on within the feature. I think it would’ve worked really well here, considering the story is split over two separate films that will be released years apart from each other.
But they haven’t, so we’ll just have to wait and see what they serve up for It: Chapter Two.
It’s not a bad film, not by any means, but their was the potential for so much more here! I’d hoped for something more than just formulaic run of the mill horror movie, but that’s exactly what we’ve got here. Interesting to see where they go with the next film.