I’ve said this before, I know, but It is my very favorite Stephen King book. There are problems, of course (the scene, THE SCENE), but the novel will always and forever have a place in my heart. Likewise, The 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry will also always have a place in my heart, for as I’ve described both here and here, it is an incredible four-hour mash-up of genuine creepiness and so-bad-its-good hilarity.
It was only natural that I would watch Andy Muschietti’s take on It, too.
And, well. I definitely liked parts of it. Probably not a forever spot in my heart, though.
Let’s just be clear about this from the get-go: I’m definitely judging this movie as an adaptation. I will do my best to be somewhat objective about this, but “somewhat objective” is all you’re getting from me. (Or, really, from anyone, since “total objectivity” is a concept, not an actual thing, but we’ll save that rant for another day.) There will be much with the comparisons here, although I will endeavor to keep any Big Time Book or Movie Spoilers in the appropriately labelled Spoiler Section. (If you don’t want to know any details about either, though, best wait until you’ve seen the film or read the book.)
Derry is a lousy place for kids. They keep going missing there, and by missing, I mean they keep running into an ancient, shapeshifting, evil clown monster, and obviously things go poorly from there. It’s up to our seven misfit child heroes, AKA The Losers, to stop this clown monster once and for all.
Well. Once, anyway.
1. Let’s begin somewhere positive: by and large, the kids in It actually sound like kids. Which is to say they swear.
Okay, it’s not just the profanity, although honestly, that’s pretty welcome. It’s that the kids actually exude personality, not just basic character types. Take Beverly, for instance: in the original miniseries, Child Beverly is basically just The Girl. She’s not the rebellious girl or the nerdy girl or the girl who cartwheels everywhere because walking is for chumps. Her gender is her entire character. It is pretty much the only thing that differentiates her from the other Losers.
This isn’t the case in Muschietti’s It, where Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is chockfull of personality and attitude. She’s tough, a badass, much closer to the Beverly I remember from the book. Richie (Finn Wolfhard) and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) are also huge improvements. Grazer just brings so much energy to Eddie, making him far more likable and funny than the Hypochondriac Kid usually gets to be. And while Kid Richie from the original miniseries is actually one of the best characters, this Richie isn’t bound by TV censorship rules from 1990. He gets the opportunity to be the little profane, motormouth shit-starter that he’s supposed to be, and that’s fun to watch.
2. Unfortunately, not all the character work totally pans out.
It, the novel, is over a 1,000 pages long. Even by cutting out the adults and splitting the story in half, the movie has far, far too much material than could ever possibly fit into a 2 hour, 15 minute movie. Changes have to be made. I understand that. Some of them I will weep over, of course, but I understand why they’re done.
And then there are the other changes.
I’ll wait to discuss the specifics of damsel-ing Beverly until the Spoiler Section, but Mike Hanlon needs to be discussed now because seriously. What is this shit?
In the book, Mike is the only black kid in the Losers. He’s also the historian of the group: it’s Mike who figures out that Pennywise isn’t just a recent threat, that he’s been around for centuries, feeding on kids every 30 or so years. In the movies, however, the historian role is given to Ben for no real reason I can tell except either a) racism, or b) the fact that Ben spends, like, four whole minutes in the library. Meanwhile, Mike now has two dead parents who are barely discussed and also must learn to slaughter pigs with his grandpa or something, like, what?
No. If you’re going to make significant changes like that, you ought to have an extremely solid justification to do so. This movie? The justification isn’t there. I even tried to provide the movie with such justifications, like, maybe in this truncated version of events, the Losers absolutely need to know that Pennywise is an ancient monster before Mike comes into the picture? Like, for Plot Reasons? Except, of course, that’s not the case at all. I cannot find a single Plot Reason to justify giving the one and only black kid’s primary story contribution to one of the six white kids.
And for fuck’s sake, if you are going to take Mike’s main role away from him, you have to give the kid something else useful to do instead. Unfortunately, It falls down pretty hard at that too. At first it seems mildly promising, like traditionally speaking, making a character an orphan with murdered parents is great, right? Like that’s some Harry Potter, Bruce Wayne, Classic Protagonist Shit right there. But it doesn’t go anywhere here! It’s barely mentioned in the story, much less plot-relevant: compare the time spent on Mike and his dead parents to Beverly and her shit dad or Bill and his missing brother. And reluctantly learning how to slaughter pigs with Gramps doesn’t seem to go anywhere, either, like that’s the kind of bizarre detail that is just screaming to be thematically relevant, but really isn’t. For Christ’s sake, Mike doesn’t even get to shoot Pennywise is a thematic match shot! He brings the gun along, and his grandfather says something kinda-foreshadow-y about the town being cursed, or something. (I forget the exact line now). That’s about it. It’s crap.
3. Briefly, about the Other Losers:
Bill – He’s okay. I’ve read many reviews praising Bill, but I actually found him one of the least interesting kids, which surprised me considering he’s carrying the emotional weight of the story. The kid’s fine. I just didn’t connect to him at all.
Ben – Also okay, though I’m still cranky he’s the Group Historian. If the film wanted to give him more depth, they could have focused on his father, or how lonely he is. (They mention his loneliness, I think, but only for like a second.) I did absolutely love the New Kids on the Block running gag, though, like, that was great. I definitely ship Ben/Bev considerably more than Bev/Bill, mostly because the former actually seem like they have a connection, whereas the latter seem like they’re crushing on each other cause the script says so. The love triangle isn’t terrible, but I do think there are moments–one in particular–where it takes away a bit from the group bond as a whole.
Mike – Okay, I already mentioned Mike. I just wanted to say that despite his lack of real stuff to do, Chosen Jacobs has some very nice facial expressions to the crazy shit around him. Wish I could’ve seen more from him.
Stan – I never feel like anyone can quite nail Stan. I’m not blaming the actor for this; as a whole, the kids are somewhere from decent to amazing. It’s just that I have this very specific idea in my head of Stan, how he needs order and logic and rules to deal, all things that Pennywise’s existence completely defies–and I feel like the movie just kind of simplifies that down to Quiet, Timid Wimp. Like, no one gets that Stan was funny, you know? (To be fair, though, it’s a relatively minor complaint.)
Richie – Yeah, I already mentioned Richie too. Just had to add that while I will always wish he played a bigger role (the way I remember from the book), I’m pretty happy with how he turned out here. I am, however, seriously concerned that they’re going to make Adult Richie as obnoxious and dickish as he was in the miniseries. PLEASE JESUS, DO NOT DO THIS.
4. But I hear you, people. You’re like, “Enough with the kids, already. What did you think of Pennywise?”
He’s appropriately creepy. Bill Skarsgård was never gonna top Tim Curry, and I didn’t go in expecting him to, but I like some things he does, performance wise, and he’s got a very concerning grin that you wouldn’t want directed at you in the middle of the night, or ever. I especially like when they play around with his size. Fucking around with expected dimensions can be surprisingly effective in horror, when done well.
So, yeah. You can see Skarsgård trying to make Pennywise his own, and he mostly succeeds. Considering just how iconic Curry’s take on the role is, that’s certainly an accomplishment. But if you’re asking whether this particular Pennywise will become the gold standard of Pennywises, like if Skarsgård is destined to become the new Heath Ledger of shapeshifting demonic clowns, my guess is probably not. He’s creepy, but I don’t know exactly how memorable he is.
Here’s my thing about clowns, though: they’re freaky, kind of, but like, mostly in a way that makes me laugh? So while I like Pennywise well enough and I find certain scenes extremely well done, I’d never go so far as to say I found the movie scary. That’s not actually a knock from me, though, since I generally don’t find Stephen King’s work particularly scary either, and I certainly don’t get freaked out by the original miniseries. I’m always talking to people who were terrified of it as kids, and I’m like, “Have you checked it out as an adult? Cause I think you’re gonna laugh more.”
5. One of my biggest problems with It, I think, is that the shape of the film feels off to me, especially the beginning. I enjoy the variety of scares, the individualization of horror, but I also feel like the movie has a stop-and-go, stop-and-go approach that immediately bleeds any tension it manages to build. It feels almost formulaic: set up the scare, do the scare, switch POV, and repeat: set up the scare, do the scare, etc. Eventually, this gets better (maybe a third or halfway through the film), but for a while it kept throwing me out of the story.
6. Another thing I really miss in this adaptation is the “clap your hands if you believe” magic.
I suspect this won’t bother anyone who hasn’t read the novel, and even some novel readers might be unaffected. But one of the reasons It is my favorite Stephen King novel is because we spend so much time with these eleven-year-old kids who are just starting to step into adolescence, and that’s this weird, chaotic time, like 11-13 is its whole own thing, right? The Losers are these kids tilting into their teenage worlds and teenage problems, but are still young enough to hold onto a child’s belief in magic, and it’s those childish beliefs that they use to fight the monster. Child magic is all over this story: there are magic bikes, silver slugs, silver bullets, mystical riddle challenges, asthma inhaler battery acid, etc. The miniseries doesn’t always do the child-belief-magic well, but they at least try it.
This It, though, has virtually no interest in any of that. There’s time for horror here but never for wonder, and that really did disappoint me. I’d say there’s maybe, like, one line about how the kids have to stick together or they’ll never defeat It . . . but that’s pretty basic, like, that line could be from any story where the villain tries to pick off the heroes one by one, and our good guys have to learn that they’re stronger together. It is special. It should be more than that.
7. Finally, some random notes until we get to the Big Time Spoilers.
7A. I find it interesting that, in this version, the kids in It are going missing, rather than getting murdered outright.
Personally, I suspect that this–like the elimination of the clap-your-hands-if-you-believe magic–was done to make the film more realistic. I’m not entirely sure it’s necessary, but I’m pretty much okay that the story changed Bill’s Quest for Vengeance into Bill’s Rescue Quest. I do think it could play better at the end, though, and I’ll discuss that in the Spoiler Section too.
7B. The Apocalyptic Rock Fight is, thankfully, better than the one in the miniseries. The music selection is fun, and all the kids get moments and reaction shots and shit. Best of all, Beverly is not the only kid in the whole group who gets injured, so thank fucking Christ for that.
That all being said, it continues to baffle me that, apparently, no one can figure out how to make this scene longer than 30 seconds. Filmmakers. It’s called the APOCALYPTIC ROCK FIGHT. You owe us at least two solid minutes, damn it.
7C. There is a Dancing Pennywise scene, and it is hysterical.
I’m not sure “hysterical” is what they were going for, exactly, but yeah. It’s both slightly unnerving and completely hilarious, all at the same time.
7D. Finally, I try not to be actively mean to children, but it must be said: this Georgie just isn’t as cute as the 1990 miniseries Georgie. I’m just saying. (Oh, okay. He’s pretty cute. I’m just never going to get over Original Georgie and how his little face falls when he realizes he has to go to the cellar. It’s just the best.)
Seriously, though, I do have some thoughts on the iconic opening scene, but those, I’m afraid, will have to wait until the Spoiler Section. So let’s just get right to that, shall we?
It’s opening act where Georgie
Gets His Arm Torn Off By An Eternal Demon Clown “goes missing” is pretty iconic, I think, like in the novel and in the miniseries, I feel like it sets a certain tone. This version, unfortunately, doesn’t work for me quite as well as it could.
I mean, it’s not terrible. Actually, I’d like to give it a second go at some point and see if I feel differently; after all, I was surprised to see that we actually do witness the serious child violence. Still, it’s not my favorite version of the scene, which I suspect is because both a) it’s the Pennywise scene that suffers most by comparison, and b) the scene that directly precedes it is so goddamn wholesome.
This scene, you see, is our introduction to the Brothers Denbrough, and I dislike it because it’s the one scene in the whole movie where the kids come off as Hollywood Kids. You know, these aren’t brothers who tell fart jokes or attack each other with boogers or anything like that. These are kids with one real purpose: quickly establish their love for one another, you know, back when Life Was Innocent and Good. Again, it’s not terrible. I don’t think it’s even long enough to be terrible. It just feels artificial, and for me, that artificiality bleeds into Georgie’s death scene as well.
We then start meeting all of our heroes, most of whom have run-ins with Pennywise. These scenes are fine as standalone moments, but I don’t think they’re edited together particularly well, like, in some ways, It reminds me of a story that’s just one draft away from being a completed product. It’s almost there, but the first half is still a little choppy and overstuffed and doesn’t balance as well as the second. Maybe if a few of the scares were flashback scenes, like, we see, say, maybe half of the Losers encounter Pennywise in present time. Then after the group helps Beverly clean up her Bathroom of Blood, they start talking about what the hell’s going on, and we see flashbacks of what the other Losers have gone through? I get that takes away some of the immediacy, but I also think it might make for a much smoother narrative.
Some of the creepiest scenes in the movie, though?
Bill in the basement with Puppet Georgie
The Losers watching the home videos
Everything that happens on The Losers’ first trip to the house on Neibolt Street
Bill finds the floating kids
About Neibolt Street: this is probably my favorite part of the whole movie, like, it’s super creepy and fun. Clowns, clowns galore. My only problem is that I think it’s kind of ridiculous that only three of the kids go inside, while the other four “stand watch” or whatever. Don’t get me wrong: I would absolutely have been the kid volunteering to stand watch, rather than going inside the monster’s lair. Still, it doesn’t quite play right. It might play better if we saw Beverly, Ben, Mike, and Stan hearing their friends in distress and desperately trying to get inside, only to be locked out or something, but I don’t think we see them at all until the action’s almost over.
Instead, Bill, Richie, and Eddie are up to their eyeballs in creepy killer clown antics, and we’re left to imagine the others, like, sitting on the porch outside, twiddling their thumbs and maybe talking about New Kids on the Block or something. Like, again, that feels artificial. There’s no genuine story reason for only three of our heroes to enter. There are writer reasons, definitely, but story reasons? Not so much. Why are these four characters even here, if they’re going to do absolutely nothing at all?
Okay, that got away from me. My point was, originally, that Bill, Richie, and Eddie barely escape with their lives, and most of the group isn’t real jazzed about another face-to-face with Pennywise. This leads to a confrontation, primarily between Bill, who desperately wants to save his brother, and Richie, who emphatically doesn’t want to die. Both are pretty valid viewpoints. All of the Losers except Bill decide to pretend that Pennywise doesn’t exist and go their separate ways, which works out sorta okay for them until Beverly Marsh is abducted.
Here’s the thing about damsel-ing Beverly Marsh: it sucks, and it sucks for a couple of reasons. One, because come on, she’s the ONLY girl. I don’t object to the idea of girls needing rescue now and then, but maybe this role could have gone to one of your five white boys instead? Seriously.
The other reason it sucks, IMO, is that I think a different character would serve as a much better catalyst for getting the band back together than Beverly, and that character is Bill. For starters, it makes the most logical sense. Bill is the only one who’s going after Pennywise, but since he’s going alone, he fails and gets taken. I mean, that just seems likely, right? And then when the others find out, they feel guilty–as they might–and are no longer able to ignore the monster who’s now taken someone they love too. So they band together to rescue their friend and leader. That, I think, works way better than “let’s kidnap and imperil the only girl so that all the boys, but especially Ben and his Magic Lips, can save her.” (Cause oh yeah. There’s your one bit of magic: Ben gets to kiss Beverly awake from her Deadlights Slumber. Excuse me while I roll my eyes so hard they fall out of my head and into my friend’s popcorn.)
Let’s see, what else happens? Well, Mike apparently kills Teenage Bully Henry Bowers in self-defense, which was something of a surprise to me, since Evil Adult Henry Bowers kind of plays a significant role later on. Maybe Evil Adult Henry Bowers will just be Undead Kid Henry Bowers in the sequel instead?
Also, Bill shoots Fake Georgie at one point, which is a nice thematic moment that, unfortunately, I don’t quite buy. I’d like to buy it, but I feel like the story skips a step, like, Bill talks about saving Georgie, and then Bill talks about saving Georgie some more, and then Bill finally meets Georgie and shoots that little motherfucker down because it’s not really his brother. The idea of that arc is solid, but usually there’s a turning point between Steps 2 and 3, you know, like a moment where Bill almost does go off with Fake Georgie before one of his friends stops him? (Something like this actually does happen in the miniseries.) It’s a relatively minor quibble, but I did think it could be handled better.
Then all the kids face down with Pennywise, and by face down, I mean they just beat the shit out of him. Again, there’s no child magic here, no silver slugs, certainly no Ritual of Chud. Nope, this is basically just a mob of kids viciously attacking a clown. It’d be a choice I’d find more interesting if I could find a symbolic or thematic reason for it, but other than making the film “grittier,” I can’t really come up with one.
Pennywise retreats and might be dead–spoilers, he’s totally not dead–so the kids eventually make a pact that they’ll come back and finish the job if needed. Then the kids each leave one by one. Ben is the third to leave, of course, leaving Bill and Beverly together, which annoys me probably more than it should because, dude, there’s a love triangle in this story, yes, but I feel like it should not be the emphasis of this particular scene. Like, this scene is supposed to be about them as a group, the bond between all of our Losers.
And if you are going to single out someone here, it’s to foreshadow the next movie, right? Like, there’s one character in particular who seems like the obvious choice to focus on. I won’t say who for people who haven’t read the book or watched the miniseries, but it’s certainly not Bill or Beverly. I guess we can discuss that in 2019.
Richie: “Go blow your dad, you mullet-wearing asshole!”
Eddie: “Is that how you want to spend your summer? Inside an arcade?”
Richie: “Beats spending it inside your mother.”
(Richie puts his hand up for a high-five. Stan immediately pulls it down without even looking at him.)
Richie: “Are these birth control pills?
Eddie: “Yeah, I’m saving it for your sister.”
Richie: “What if her dad comes back?”
Stan: “Do what you always do. Start talking.”
Richie: “It is a gift.”
Eddie: “You know what these are? They’re gazebos! They’re bullshit!”
Richie: “Wait, can only virgins see this stuff? Is that what I’m not seeing this shit?”
Richie: “Aren’t you guys coming in?”
Eddie: “Uh-uh. That’s gray water.”
Richie: “What the hell is gray water?”
Eddie: “It’s basically piss and shit. I’m just telling you.”
Richie: “I’m glad I met you before you died.”
Richie: “You punched me, made me walk through shitty water, brought me to a fucking crackhead house . . . and now I’m gonna have to kill this fucking clown.”
I know this has been a mostly negative review, but I don’t think it’s a bad movie. Actually, there are scenes I’d definitely like to re-watch, and I absolutely plan to check out the sequel. The acting’s great, as is the cinematography. There are some awesomely creepy scenes and some funny dialogue, most of it Richie’s. But I also think the movie could have been so much better if they a) hadn’t changed shit that wasn’t broke, b) stayed away from trope-y conventions they didn’t need, and c) re-written and re-edited for a smoother, less stop-and-go narrative.
Sophia Lillis, I think, but Jack Dylan Grazer and Finn Wolfhard were serious contenders.
You can’t defeat evil alone. Also, maybe don’t talk to clowns in sewers? Like, it’s just a thought.