HALLOWEEN’ING Day 6: IT (2017)

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halloween'ing 2017IT bannerYeah, yeah, I realize this is more of a resent thing, having been released just last month, but…really, for a movie that would encompass everything you would expect for the Halloween season, this It hits all the right notes: Creepy clown, monsters, haunted house, unsettling use of balloons…It has it. Not to mention kids going up against a supernatural enemy; this is basically an R rated Monster Squad. It’s still in the theatrical run, so now would be a good time to go and give this a watch.

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Movie Review: IT (2017)

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itWarner Bros.
2017
R

“This isn’t real enough for you, Billy? I’m not real enough for you? It was real enough for Georgie.”

Seven young outcasts in Derry, Maine, are about to face their worst nightmare–an ancient, shape-shifting evil that emerges from the sewer every 27 years to prey on the town’s children. Banding together over the course of one horrifying summer the friends must overcome their own personal fears to battle the murderous, bloodthirsty clown known as Pennywise.

I’ve been sitting here now, for quite a bit of time, trying to figure out how I’m going to lead off this particular review of the new big-screen adaptation of one of Stephen Kings more notorious novels in his repertoire, It. There were several ways I could have approached this, really: talk a bit about the book; talk about the first adaptation, the TV miniseries from 1990; a bit from both columns maybe. But, the biggest thing that hit me the prior night, after watching the 2017 movie, was that the new It was released 27 years after the TV miniseries. I see what you did there, movie. Was that deliberate or mere coincidence? Probably coincidence. Unless it was deliberate. It’s enough to make me paranoid. Well, more so.

Anyway, at this point I should make the obligatory mention of me being a long-time fan of Stephen King, having read the book It in the late 1980s at the age of 15, and watching the original broadcasts of the TV miniseries adaptation and then renting the VHS releases more than once back in the day. And while I loved the miniseries adaptation (the first part was better than the second part, but that seems to be a universally held opinion on the whole), it still seemed to lack a certain bite that would have really made it a scary tour de force. I realize that there were limitations due to being shown on network television back in the very early 1990s, but still. Getting a proper big-screen movie adaptation was something that was announced every other year or so since the mid-1990s, but took quite a while to actually find ground and get made. Long enough for me to take a “I’ll believe it when I’m sitting in a theater and seeing it” kind of stance with any news report of one.

And now, here we are, with what is reportedly the first chapter in a two-part big screen adaptation of It. I saw it. I believed it. And, wow, let me tell you, the wait was definitely worth it.

There’s a couple of things I need to point out here before I forget: First, best use of an Anthrax song in a movie, ever. The other movie that I know of that utilizes Anthrax was Last Action Hero. At least, they had an Anthrax song on their soundtrack. I haven’t seen that movie yet, so I can’t verify if it’s in the movie itself. But, yeah, It cranks out “Antisocial” at a key point in the movie. Metal horns up. And on a side note, one of the antagonists wears metal shirts. Awesome. The other point I wanted to make, most importantly, is that, if you have an aversion to clowns–even if they just make you the least bit uncomfortable–this It is definitely not for you. Trust me on this one. Because the Pennywise here makes Tim Curry’s Pennywise from the miniseries look like he was a member of Clowns For Jesus.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. With something like this, it could have been very easy to skip past a lot of the source material and just focus on “there’s a creepy clown, BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!” kind of narrative. This movie wisely takes the time to build up the main characters, to give them depth and make you care about them. The fear and terror here doesn’t stem from some supernatural harlequin; the actual terror is from each of the character’s real life, what they most fear. The clown–or, more to the point, the entity behind the clown itself, more on that in a bit–just happens to amplify those fears to get to them. But, what makes it so effective is that you’re given time to get to know everyone in the Loser’s Club, to care about their situations and home lives. Heck, even the main antagonist, one Henry Bowers, is given a scene that makes you sympathetic for how he came to become such a monster. Very good job picking out the right child actors to carry the story.

Now, a bit about Pennywise. For me, clowns are no problem. I have no fear of them. They don’t even make me uncomfortable…unless they invade my personal space, but that goes for everyone on this planet. Bill Skarsgård’s take on Pennywise is the first instance where I was genuinely creeped out by a clown in any media. This can be chalked up to two things: 1) Bill Skarsgård’s mannerisms and style he went for (he wisely chose to not just imitate Tim Curry’s iconic version), and 2) the effects that made Pennywise off-putting and unnatural, and not just when the fangs came out. I’ve read and heard complaints that Pennywise didn’t seem real…and I think that was the whole point. As I touched on, and for those of you familiar with the source material, Pennywise is just an avatar that It uses, and I would think that, to wring the maximum amount of fear from a child, an ancient entity of pure evil that may or may not be a Lovecraftian elder god would use that to great effect. And I found it used to great effect, here. Especially in the final confrontation.

Anyway, I’ve been gushing about this movie for far too long, now. I’m just going to leave off with this: While I do admit that there were times when the story seems a bit disjointed and unfocused, keep in mind the source material. To say there were some issues with pacing with the book would be to understate things considerably. Also, to that end, anyone who may be expecting a faithful word-by-word adaptation of the novel…nope. Not getting it here. The very fact that they set the year this takes place with 1988 and 1989 instead of 1957 and 1958 tips you right off the bat. And really, I am not only okay with the changes, but I think it makes the story better.

Overall, despite the gang of 11-year-old boys sitting behind me freaking out every five minutes over the littlest things (seriously, what was that father thinking?), I enjoyed this It immensely. Easily the second best film I’ve seen in theaters this year. I would highly recommend you seeing this as a matinee, with a bunch of friends and a goodly amount of popcorn at the ready. Red balloon optional.