Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard
Director: Andy Muschietti
Screenplay: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga
Drama/Horror, Rated: R
Running Time: 135 minutes
Release Date: September 8, 2017
Scott, to paraphrase Indiana Jones: Clowns. Why did it have to be clowns?
I do believe this story was Stephen King’s clowning achievement. Let’s recap.
It’s 1989 and we’re introduced to 12-year-old Billy (Jaeden Lieberher). His younger brother George had gone missing a year ago and for the most part everyone believes him dead. But Billy is holding out hope. We know that evil PennyWise (Bill Skarsgård), the Dancing Clown killed George in a gruesome way.
Billy and his best buddies (Ben, Richie, Mike, Eddie, and Stan) are heading into their thirteenth summer with some obstacles. Among them, three bullies lead by Henry. Henry cuts portly Ben in an act of villainy and the boys need supplies from the pharmacy to patch him up. They enlist the help of 13-year-old Beverly (Sophia Lillis) who distracts the pharmacist as the boys abscond with gauze, tape, and rubbing alcohol.
Ben does some research and discovers that the town of Derry has been plagued by terrible tragedies and missing children every 27 years. And like clockwork, the current year of 1989 is ripe for tragedy again. The boys begin encountering the clown individually and narrowly escape with their lives each time. They learn that the clown feeds on each individual’s unique fears. Billy suspects that George may still be alive and devises a plan to confront the clown at the well house where all the town’s sewers meet.
Scott, I don’t usually like horror films. I went in to IT with low expectations. But I was pleasantly surprised. It was reminiscent of Stand By Me and The Goonies. Everyone in the ensemble has a hurt or pain and a main goal. By the end everyone learns a lesson, lasting friendships are forged, and the world is a better place.
Usually horror films rely on eerie music and shocking surprises to instill fear into the viewer. IT doesn’t disappoint here. Although, I felt the soundtrack overly foreshadowed the scarier moments. When I look back at other horror films, only The Exorcist still gives me a reptilian sense of dread. IT had a scary clown, but nothing in this film really made me look over my shoulder on the way to my car. IT wasn’t that scary.
Greg, I do enjoy some movies based on Stephen King novels. Stand By Me, The Green Mile, and Shawshank Redemption come to mind. Those stories are not “scary” movies by any means; they have depth and storytelling elements that transcend the horror genre. I’m afraid that this film, IT, follows the formulaic scary movie plotline a little too closely for my tastes. There is a monster that is killing people, and we are subjected to both false scares and real scares. While kids are dropping one by one, a group of heroes takes matters into their own hands and gangs up on the monster, killing it.
My bias against this genre is no doubt showing itself big-time, but the bias exists because these scary movies simply prey on the same fear over and over again. This movie lasts over two hours, which is unfortunate and unnecessary. Every parental figure in this film is a horrible human being, which conveniently pits our young teen heroes on their own against this circus performing menace. The clown has extraordinary supernatural powers that conveniently appear and reappear, depending on whether the plot is best served by them. Although there were elements of the story that I appreciated, such as the pseudo-romance between Beverly and a couple of the boys, there just wasn’t enough here to maintain much of my interest.
The ensemble cast led by Billy and Bev make up a nice team hero structure. Everyone contributes and everyone has something to overcome. It’s hard to manage a 7-way ensemble cast and give everyone something to do. Usually some character gets relegated to the background while some other character drives the story forward. In the ‘biz’ doing it right is called ‘sharing focus.’ And IT does ‘it’ really well.
Our heroes are all lacking courage at first but exhibit increasing confidence as the story progresses. When Bev’s bathroom is sprayed with blood, all the boys chip in to clean up the mess. One definition of courage is not the absence of fear, but acting in the face of fear. And our heroes ultimately achieve that level of heroism.
You’re right that there is a clear heroic transformation taking place during the course of the film. These boys (and Beverly) band together to fight the evil Henry and the evil clown, overcoming their various phobias and past baggage in the process. The transformation goes beyond conquering fears; there are also three coming-of-age elements at work here: blossoming romantic feelings, male bonding, and rebellion against parental figures. Stephen King’s fingerprints are all over these characterizations and they do add much-needed depth to the anemic horror-film structure.
IT is uncommon horror fare. I was surprised that I had a good time. I came to care about these characters and I enjoyed their transformation and coming of age. I give IT 4 out of 5 Reels. The ensemble structure was very well-managed. It’s hard to pull off a group dynamic and IT delivered. I give the kids 4 out of 5 Heroes. And you can’t ask for a better transformation than 7 people each facing their individual fears and overcoming their weaknesses. I give them 5 out of 5 Deltas.
IT is an overly long scary movie that doesn’t distinguish itself enough from the countless other films in this genre for me to give it a positive review. Yes, clowns are scary, but no one needs to see over two hours of killer clowning going on. Stephen King did add some much-needed character depth to our hero ensemble, and this movie desperately needed it. Still, the story is too formulaic for my tastes, and as such I can only award IT 2 Reels out of 5.
These heroes do go on a journey and endure hard trials, a terrifying enemy, and an admirable love interest in Beverly. There are no human mentors assisting them; only a library full of books detailing the dark history of the town. There is a coming-of-age transformation that is done well and saved this movie from being a limp re-tread of bad horrors movies from the past. I award these heroes 3 Hero points out of 5, and 3 transformation Deltas out of 5, also.