Running Length: 135 minutes
Release Date: 8th September 2017
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jamie Lillis
Written by: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman
Cinematography: Chung-hoon Chung
Are you scared of clowns?
It is the second Stephen King adaption to arrive in cinemas this summer. Andy Muschietti’s movie has been through a convoluted development, but – unlike The Dark Tower – has come out the other side relatively unscathed.
In the autumn of 1988, 7-year-old Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) disappears down a storm culvert. Georgie’s parents have moved on by the following summer but his brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher, Midnight Special) refuses to give up hope of finding out what happened to his younger sibling. Along with his group of friends and fellow outcasts, Bill searches the sewers of Derry for clues to his brothers’ fate. As more children begin to disappear, the “losers club” discover that a malevolent force is preying on the town’s children. The entity terrorises each of the children in the human form of Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgård).
The Tim Curry-led, made-for-TV version from 1990 is still a source of childhood terror for those of a certain age, but it has not aged well. This new iteration has been kicking around in development hell since 2009, when True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga was attached to co-write/direct. How much of Fukunaga’s vision remains in Gary Dauberman’s script is hard to say, but the version that’s made it to screen has split King’s source novel in half. This instalment (or “chapter”) consists of the first part of the book. It’s a smart move that leaves enough room for all the necessary elements without over cluttering the lengthy runtime with unnecessary plotting. Whether or not “It: The Second Chapter” will ever see the light of day will depend on how this fares at the box office.
Dauberman brings the action forward from the novel’s original 1950s timeframe, but much of the dialogue seems to have been left unchanged. Like George Lucas, King’s capacity for writing youth culture is tied to his own childhood. So here we have kids in the late 1980s talking and acting like kids from the 1950s (Greasers? Flick knives? Really?).
Nostalgia for the 1980s is big business right now, thanks to Netflix’s majestic Stranger Things (although casting Finn Wolfhard seems a little too on-the-nose) and the present (at the time of writing) President of the United States taking us all right back to the Cold War. Wolfhard gets all the best lines (mostly variations on “your ma” jokes), and Jeremy Ray Taylor manages to make an impression as the overweight Ben “Tits” Hanscom, but It’s MVP is undoubtedly Sophia Lillis as the spunky Beverly.
Elsewhere the performances vary in quality from capable to commendable, although the young cast all share an enthusiasm and chemistry that’s impossible to fake. Thanks to It, we now know what a Wes Craven-directed version of The Goonies would look like. If the studio had cut out enough gore to bring the IFCO rating down a notch or two, then this could easily be marketed as a kids’ coming-of-age movie called “One Crazy Summer”.
Surely the main purpose of a horror movie is to scare and this horror movie’s major downfall is a dearth of horror. Skarsgård’s drooling, buck-toothed clown is certainly memorable, but the portrayal is far too broad to be truly unsettling. The suggestion of what hides in the darkness is always more terrifying than the reality, and the “in broad daylight” horror here is too lucid. It frequently resorts to gore for gore’s sake instead of tickling the imagination and providing some sense of lasting, cathartic terror. Jump scares don’t work if your audience doesn’t jump.
Amongst all the leprous zombies, headless children and gushing fountains of blood, the creepiest element by far is the objectification of the pubescent Beverly. The source novel’s truly bizarre pre-teen orgy section has been wisely cut out, but incest and the sexual abuse of a minor are not plot devices that should be used lightly. Muschietti opens this box, then wastes it on a bit of throwaway action – and squanders the opportunity to use it in a meaningful manner.
King adaptions run the spectrum from the sublime to the ridiculous. It is one of the better ones, but it’s still pretty average. Shame it’s not scary.
Unless you’re scared of clowns. In which case, it’s probably terrifying.