"It" (2017) Film Review
Stephen King Chiller Succumbs to the Mainstream
We all know what makes a great horror movie, right? Lurking dread, sinister suspense, and an ominous air of startling social relevance are the essential elements that defined the early days of the genre.
Of course - if these elements are allowed to softly sneak up and massage your back over the space of a carefully crafted narrative – the addition of terrifying critters leaping out of closets are entirely warranted.
It’s therefore depressing that this decade’s catalogue of jump scare-ridden chillers seem to have forgotten that less is more.
Thanks to haunted house fare such as ‘The Conjuring’ (2013) and ‘Insidious’ (2011), populist horror flicks have taken the form of elongated ghost train rides, bursting with beasties in every corner. With no overarching sense of paranoia or atmosphere though, these overly obvious shocks feel as empty as they are predictable!
While this “quiet, quiet, BANG!” approach has undoubtedly hit a chord with high-schoolers longing for a Friday night fright, hardcore horror geeks have been left longing for a return to the meatier chills of old times.
Perhaps a new take on Stephen King’s demonic clown chiller ‘It’ is exactly what’s needed?
Set in the sleepy town of Derry, Maine, the film follows the pursuits of a group of socially outcast teens lapping at the prospect of adventure while confronting their deepest and darkest fears.
At the heart of our story is Billy (Jaden Lieberher); a 15 year old determined to find his little brother Georgie who disappeared when he was young.
Together with his close pals, they encounter a demon that has cursed the town for nearly 30 years; snatching young children as it inhabits the very thing that frightens them most. For them all, this monster manifests itself as a deranged dancing clown by the name of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard).
Having been previously adapted as a popular 1990 TV mini-series, ‘It’s concept comes tailored with terrifying real-life undertones as it confronts the basis behind childhood phobias, along with the hidden traumas of dysfunctional households.
Childhood certainly takes centre stage here with the film boasting a nostalgic Spielbergian quality evident in its grainy, Super 8 camera-style cinematography and an eerie yet somewhat mischievous score.
Inevitable comparisons will be made with Netflix smash hit ‘Stranger Things’ (2015-), ‘E.T’ (1982) and the King-based coming-of-age classic ‘Stand By Me’ (1986).
Yet ‘It’s closest cousins lie in the likes of ‘The Goonies’ (1985) and ‘Poltergeist’ (1983). Similar to those earlier works, ‘It’ treads the wavering line between adulthood and adolescence with aplomb.
Directed by Andy Muschietti (behind 2013’s Spanish horror hit ‘Mama’), the film is at its best when exploring the perilous plight of growing up. Something which is universally encapsulated by an unrelentingly capable teenage cast.
A standout performer is unquestionably newcomer Sophie Lillis. As the group’s sole female Beverley, the young actress is terrific at getting to the heart of what so many teenage girls routinely struggle with.
Being what some might see as a school’s ironically-named “It girl”, Beverley is a warm presence who provides cheerful optimism to her male mates and yet routinely suffers bullying at the hands of fellow schoolgirls jealous over her pretty appearance, while coming home to an abusive father.
It is these subplots that provide ‘It’s darkest subject matter indicating a much-needed return to horror being rooted in realism rather than escapism.
What is both disappointing and surprising is that for all its musings over the ups and downs of youth, what ‘It’ lacks - as a horror film - is its own ability to scare.
With the exception of the infamous “HIYA GEORGIE!” opening scene, Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise lacks the gleeful menace of Tim Curry’s chaotically carnival incarnation.
This version of the psychopathic clown may appear less comical at face value, but is hampered by an awkward overload of CGI that detracts from the paralysing phobia that dozens identify with and which the film is attempting to play on.
Pennywise himself never feels a palpable threat; lurking in the shadows before being unleashed in a ‘Psycho’-esque climax that resorts to the tired mind games that made the ‘Saw’ films such slogs.
I don’t doubt the film’s shift from psychologically-driven tension to prankster-style scare-mongering will be key to its financial success.
However ‘It’s strongly hinted sequel would definitely benefit from a few less bogeymen behind doors…