Saturday, 9 September 2017

Movie Review: IT - For the Constant Reader

I'm about 30 hours into the IT audiobook, with another 20 to go. That'll tell you something about the impossibility of translating IT to the big screen with any kind of satisfaction for the Constant Reader. And yet, IT succeeds in the places the Constant Reader would want. Stephen King's novel is as much a coming-of-age parable as it is about horror. When I first read it in my very early teens, it was transformative: here's this seriously scary horror novel, written by an adult, but about kids. I loved it, and I loved the characters. Stephen King's style is informal, sometimes unfocused and often tangential, as you may expect at over 1,000 pages, but it is immersive. There's plenty of major plot points to hit, but the journey between them is just as important, and that's what I took from the movie.

The kids are great, written with an edge and comedy that reflects the novel well. Inevitably they are condensed versions, borderline caricatures of themselves, but they are played with such enthusiasm by the actors that you can be forgiven. There's a couple changes; Haystack is no longer Haystack; when they called him simply the New Kid, it didn't feel honest, simply because it wasn't a proper nickname I think. Ben Hanscom instead becomes the foil that bring the kids together; being new, and being a loner, he researched the town and its history to shoehorn the myth and cyclical nature of past events into the movie. A little backstory.

Richie Tozier is perhaps the most memorable of the kids; as the comedic relief, he gets all the best lines. Some laugh out loud. But not to do a disservice to all the kids, they all get moments to shine and make the viewer smile; subtleties that you might miss the first time round, such as Eddie (or perhaps Stanley) being the only one to hitch their bicycle while the others chuck them down to the ground.

Where the film falls is when it pushes too far with its horror. Bill plays Pennywise just fine, it's just that Pennywise's effectiveness comes to a height about two-thirds in, and thereafter loses all tension. Spoilers follow. Two great horror moments in this are set pieces that don't rely on jump scares or quick movements, or individual stupidity, but instead on visuals. The bloody scene in Beverley's bathroom was executed brilliantly, gushingly. As a recent reader, there was even more blood in the movie than there had been in my head. The other high point was the projector scene in the garage, with slow reveals of the clown being shown on the wall, culminating in the best jump scare, simply because of the size of the his head as he comes at them. The CGI lets it down in the end, with too much of the scene cutting away so you can't get a clear idea of what's going on and then miraculously they get the garage open and all is well.

The trouble with these scenes is they are outlandish and extreme, but with very little time after them for reflection. That none of the kids were harmed in the garage too, when the chance was obviously there (and they were all in 'fear' and could have fed Pennywise) just took the edge away. And later, when the kids truly lose their fear, it stops being a horror while continuing to try and be one, simply because the tension is gone.

There's too much reliance on CG, more practical effects would have been great for authenticity. On top of that, the movie tried too hard to scare us, pushing the kids into one-on-one situations that just made you want to scream at the screen, seconds after saying let's stick together. In other words, it became cliched and formulaic. Which is why it's the kids that hold it all together. There's barely an adult in the whole film who isn't a total asshole, which fits with the lore of the novel well (at least when they're kids). The movie pushes this to the extreme, ensuring we end up rooting for them.

This is why the Constant Reader will like this movie, and this is why I give it 4 out of 5. There's plenty of straight up horror movies out there, cliched and formulaic, whose characters you don't care about, that have no energy and life or humour; that don't even have high points of horror. But IT does have all those things, even romance! Bring on chapter two.


  1. I haven't seen the new film yet... kind of afraid to because I liked the mini-series so much. I don't think fear of disappointment is what they were going for :)

    Also, in paragraph one: "Stephen King's style is informal, sometimes unfocused and often tangential, as you may expect at over 1,000 words" - probably meant to say over 1,000 pages?

    Actually, that's one of my biggest beefs with later Stephen King work. I feel like in the earlier days his writing was more chopped, more heavily edited and benefited from it. These days, because of his name value, he can get away with being more tangential than really benefits the story.

  2. Ha, SK probably writes 1,000 words before brushing his teeth in the morning!

    Latest work has been a little overwritten, thinking perhaps about the JFK novel, and Doctor Sleep; but not sure it has changed that much since The Stand, The Shining, and IT. The Gunslinger was slim I suppose! In general we just get a lot of backstory.