The new IT feels eighties. I mean, deliberately so, King’s original novel with that two act structure deliberately plays on the feelings and aches of childhood, in order to contrast them with the adults they turn into. As a novelist he ventured back to his own childhood in the fifties in order to capture something that would have felt indescribable at the time of writing. It makes sense now to update IT, stay true to the authorial intent, the director, Andy Muschietti (the third attached to the project), was born in 1973, I figure he went ahead with the opportunity to create a portrait of his childhood.
The film’s greatest failing is that, this portrait it’s trying to paint doesn’t feel right. It might be a side effect of the recent eighties nostalgia explosion. People all about enjoying Stranger Things even though it’s this empty husk of a story whose beats only work if you haven’t seen the original works it rips off. They all about that patina, the glow of this time just far enough out of reach to be an unproblematic idyll. People my age, or young millennials at any rate, don’t have to deal with memories of their parents arguing in the eighties. We weren’t born yet.
So we ain’t nostalgic for no real eighties, or even a mediatised version that pretends to be. Nah, our eighties is a fantasyland, a dreamscape, one which can find its definition in the parcel of wax in the basement; the ever changing marquee above the cinema box office; the operation of a slide projector. These things which are tactile, sensual; solid enough to trick us into thinking we lived in a time we never did, in some parallel version of it that never existed.
The film is careless in the construction of its world. Perhaps it has inherited most of its problems from the source material but that ain’t truly no excuse. There’s the way that people of colour, especially the only non-white lead (Chosen Jacobs, playing Mike Hanlon) is sidelined and ignored by the screenplay. The way that the film represents the toxic masculinity and male gaze of its leads without doing anything to comment on these things. Neither does it seem to have any sort of point, or opinion need representing when it casts the only lead woman (Sophia Lillis as Bev Marsh) as a victim of sexual abuse.
Early on in the film this bully characters starts shoving another of our leads around. Calls him a ‘f****t’. See, why choose that particular slur when none of these kids are gay? It’s just another slide projector, ‘Hey! Look what you could get away with in the eighties!’ Without actually thinking about it. Yes, this film has a severe paucity of thought. It just guilelessly ploughs its way through the material hoping that the needledrops will be enough to mask the contradictory tones it fails to unite.
I suppose the main saving grace is that King’s source material is pretty much a bona-fide classic. The story of a bunch of outcast schoolkids, literally the losers club, investigating the dark secrets of their town and stumbling onto some horrifying truth buried underneath all along is classic, even if some of its core assumptions could have done with introspection. And jeez, It itself, Pennywise the Clown, seems to have stood the test of time. What’s really the point in another scary clown tale, when the scariest clown of all is already here?
But there’s little new brought to this one through the adaptation. Some great performances, watching Sophia Lillis here feels like it felt when Elle Fanning first appeared in Super 8 all them years ago, I hope she’s onto huge things. The other members of the Losers Club too all pull their weight, we got some fair newcomers, Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie who really sell their bits. Jaeden Lieberher even manages to overcome the huge impediment of his character’s stutter to create something real. (A Note, I hope The Book of Henry don’t torpedo his career, that character was so toxic and there sure were moments I was seeing it here. The dude don’t need to suffer for Colin Trevorrow’s mistake.)
Bill Skarsgård though. Not really a good Pennywise. It’s not all him, the film is way too devoted to the contemporary version of horror movie filmmaking. It’s devoted to the jumpscare. They have two that the clown can really pull off, either he appear somewhere unexpected, or he stand still for a while then run real fast at the camera. He’s a monster, and sure, that’s an honest portrayal but it works against the movie.
There’s something rotten about the town, we’re told, festering under the surface. Then, as if the film think we’re too impatient or stupid to realise it, it’ll throw something new at us, something twisted. A leper maybe, or a stretched deformed woman, or maybe some zombies. There’s even this nce sequence where a child is following spooky noises around a library. It’s unnerving until all that tension is released when the clown appears at the end of an aisle and runs, screaming towards the camera.
Then we got the haunted house. It’s like the epitome of what’s wrong with this movie. There’s a haunted house, like of course, it’s the entrance to It’s domain. At the end of a nice row of suburbs there’s this fucking Disney’s Haunted Mansion type building. They said squatters used to live there. Thing looks like Dr Frankenstein just moved out. It so cartoonish, there ain’t no subtlety there at all.
No nuance. The material deserves better than this.
IT is currently screening in UK cinemas.