IT (2017)

Rating:

SEND IN THE CLOWN

Main Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgard

Director: Andy Muschietti

Normy’s funeral was yesterday.  Not all of my carefully made plans came to fruition in the way I had envisioned them

donkeys

Not Clydesdales, but endearing in their own ways.

but I’m sure he appreciated the send-off, smiling down from wherever he may be.  The Budweiser Clydesdales were delayed by a flat tire on their transport somewhere outside of Bakersfield.  Several frantic phone calls later and I was able to get a half dozen donkeys from Pancho’s Exotic Animal Rentals of Pacoima to draw the bier.  The Los Angeles Ballet also fell through, so I ended up with Mrs. Tuttle’s Tapping Tots as coffin followers.  I had some major trepidation handing them out sparklers (the authorities had nixed the flambeaux I had originally envisioned due to heightened fire danger) as I have not forgotten that little scene in Salina, Utah all those years ago but the kids were on good behavior and there was only one incident requiring the fire department during the procession to the Chinese theater when one little urchin got his sparkler a little too close to a withered hedge outside of JoBeth Williams’ house.

The crowd that gathered to pay homage to him in the courtyard of the Chinese theater was far greater than I had

mimosa

Not to worry, I saved a mimosa for myself!

anticipated, and we ran out of cucumber sandwiches and mimosas long before the end of the visitation.  That’s when I realized that many of the mourners were stray tourists checking out the handprints in the cement.  At the end of the allotted time, I had a rented orchestra play Normy’s last composition, his concerto for flugelhorn and rockslide in D minor.  Of course, there was no way to have a full landslide in the middle of downtown Hollywood, so we had to improvise.  Having Mrs. Tuttle’s tapping tots lob cinderblocks off the roof at the climactic moment didn’t have quite the same effect.  The audience was appreciative.  At least they all jumped to their feet at that point, but I thought it rather rude that they scurried so quickly towards the exits.

At last it was over, so I returned to Casa Maine to begin my life as an I rather than as a we and poured myself a very large gin and tonic and repaired to the home theater to find a film that might remind me of happier times.  My eye fell on the DVD of the 2017 remake of Stephen King’s IT which was a major success this past fall.  I had not had a chance to see it, so I popped it in for a look.  It did not have the panache or the musical brio of my musical version from a year or so earlier, but it had scored well with both critics and the public.

For those who have been living under a rock for the last few decades, IT is a tale that combines many of Stephen King’s fascinations: Unspeakable evil, middle school boys, small town Maine.  The original novel is long and complex, following a group of youngsters that battle the titular evil, a malevolent entity that lives in the sewers under their hometown and who manifests itself as a lurid grinning clown, and their adult selves as they must return to the town to battle it again as it wakes from its cycle of hibernation.  An earlier television adaptation from the early 1990s, focused on the adult characters with flashbacks to childhood.  This film is solely about the childhood battle.  A sequel which follows the characters into adulthood is promised for next year.

The film opens with young Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) sick in bed, but not so sick that he can’t make a paper boat for his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott).  Georgie heads out into the rain to play with his boat in the gutter, awash with storm runoff and soon loses his boat into a storm drain, where he sees, hiding under the street, Pennywise the dancing clown (Bill Skarsgard), who drags Georgie down into the sewers and certain doom.  Bill is devastated by his brother’s disappearance and soon he and his school friends, the other town misfits, are starting to figure out that the town of Derry Maine is stalked by a malevolent force that appears every 27 years, targeting the town’s children.  His friends include Beverly (Sophia Lills), abused by her father, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), overweight and erudite, Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Jewish, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), a hypochondriac with an overbearing mother, Richie (Finn Wolfhard), with coke bottle glasses and a foul mouth, and Mike (Chosen Jacobs), a home-schooled orphan with a stern grandfather who wants him to learn the family trade of butchery.  They call themselves The Losers Club and spend their days riding around town on their Schwinns, avoiding a group of sociopathic older boys led by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and ultimately confronting their fears as Pennywise attempts to take them and feed on their fears.  There are boo moments, showers of blood and a couple of pitched battles before good triumphs over evil but we surmise that the battles are not yet over for these young people, each damaged in their own way by circumstances outside of his or her control.

IT had been in development hell for a number of years, first announced as a project under the direction of David Kajganich from his own screenplay and he seems to have been the one to conceive of splitting the narrative in two for the two different time periods.  It came to naught in the late 2000s, only to be picked up by writer director Cary Fukunaga who did extensive pre-production work, before leaving the project over budgetary disputes.  He still retains screenplay credit.  Finally, the project was completed by director Andy Muschietti.   His work is competent, and he certainly knows how to pull off all the old horror film tropes including the sudden reaching out of a hand, or the change in a painting, or something barely seen, but hiding in the dark.

The young cast are all very good in their roles.  I was particularly taken with Miss Lills, the only girl, who has some very difficult scenes to play with her abusive father (Stephen Bogaert) and with Mr. Taylor as the bookish and overweight new kid in town who provides a real backbone for the troop.  The story makes Mr. Lieberher the nominal hero but he doesn’t have nearly the presence of some of his sidekicks.  The weak link is Pennywise.  Bill Skarsgard is simply not menacing enough and has difficulty finding the twisted fun and camp subtext in his scenes.  Every time he was on screen, I longed for Tim Curry, who played the part in the 1990s and who knew exactly how to find all of that, recognizing that Pennywise’s costume and makeup is, in many ways, just another form of drag.

Like most horror films, it makes the mistake of showing us too much, rather than showing us less and letting our imagination fill in the gaps.  What we don’t actually see is usually scarier than what is shown in explicit gory detail.  Mr. Muschietti needs to take a look at The Hitcher or the original Dutch version of The Vanishing to see how powerful a feeling of dread and off-screen action can be.  Is it worth seeing?  Sure, but don’t expect it to scare you, just expect it to be entertaining, in some rather unpleasant ways.

Haunted house.  Library basement. Strangling hair.  Floating corpses.  Sewer model. Gratuitous bar mitzvah. Tweens in underwear. Cliff jumping. Rock battle. Knife to belly.  Knife to neck.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

Related posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

SEARCH
Get Netflix Dates emailed free to you every week