I’ve been obsessing over the film version of “IT” that came out recently, and have watched with delight as it has shattered box-office expectations to become a star performer for the year and the highest-grossing horror film of all time. It has a ways to go before it outgrosses The Exorcist (adjusted for inflation) but I think it may get there. I’ll probably go see it again.
There’s plenty of full-on reviews out there, so this may just be bullet points – a Profile in Geekery, if you will. Spoilers ahead.
Andy Muschietti. His fingerprints are all over this movie. The creature design is very reminiscent of Mama, especially the Flute Woman who terrorizes Stan Uris. Not surprising, since this monster is wholly an invention of the film, not to be found in the source material.
Which movie is closer to the book – the new film, or the 1990 miniseries? Several of the friends I saw this movie with, who hadn’t read the book, asked me this question.
The 1990 miniseries hit more of the plot points from the book – the dam in the Barrens, the slingshot, Mr. Marsh as a hitter rather than a diddler, the movie date, etc. almost to the point of being slavish fan service. The character of Pennywise/It is also a lot more mystical, which fits in with the book better. However, the cheesiness of Pennywise is native to the miniseries, not the book, and as a network TV product of 1990, no cursing or graphic violence could be depicted, nor were they keen to depict kids in mortal danger. The cheesiness helped diffuse the sense of danger, but also neutered a key trope of the book.
The 2017 film is truer to the spirit of the book in the lived-in quality of the friendships between the kids; Beverly’s toughness; and the overall vulgarity and violence. In a lot of ways, though, the film is its own thing – it feels like a separate property, identifiably inspired by the source material with familiar names, tropes, and plot points, but very different in feel in a number of ways.
The 2017 film got other plot points on the nose – Henry killing his father and carving his initial into Ben’s belly; the character of Eddie’s mother. The movie invented other scenes from whole cloth, though, including Mike’s job at the stock yards and the quarry swimming hole.
Shoving the story into a 3-act movie. I read some criticism that some of the changes were in service of making the story into a typical three-act movie. The most obvious sign of this is when the kids have a falling-out around the third-act break. Typical movie trope, but nowhere to be found in the book, where the Losers Club is a rock-solid unit from start to finish.
Pennywise/It. I’m not easily scared. I knew most of the jump scares were coming because I had binge-watched much of the preview footage. The imagery is inspired but not debilitatingly frightening; and clowns don’t scare me the way they scare many other people. I felt this way about the miniseries as well. And I’m not being macho. To read about times I was scared by a movie, check out this blog.
So … what to say about Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise and the interpretation of “It” as a whole? As a piece of acting, it is mesmerizing. The unease I felt from watching Pennywise brought to life is entirely due to Skarsgard, not the makeup or the outfit.
One thing that surprised me about this representation of “It,” though, was how physical the entity is. In most incarnations, It has the same retractable set of shark-like teeth it extrudes to make its kills, implying a more animal than mystical nature. In the book and the miniseries, it is omnipresent and omniscient, woven into the fabric of the town itself, the callousness of the town’s adults, able to appear and disappear like a ghost and only vulnerable to the power of belief. The fact that only seven kids, working together, stood a chance against It was raised to some sort of totemic, “chosen-ones” kind of motif.
Although some of the omnipresence of It is implied by the adults, and by It’s ability to take over and then emerge from the slide show, in the end the It of the film is a much more physical entity, which can be cornered and whaled on with spears, bats, and pneumatic guns. The importance of the seven kids working together is reduced to more of a sense that seven kids is more than the monster can handle. Earlier in the movie it tries to separate the kids so it can pick them off one by one, but together, they are not only able to gang up on It, but being with your friends and girded for a fight makes the kids less scared, sapping It of much of its power. It is vulnerable simply by virtue of being outnumbered; and outside of Its ability to scare, was never particularly strong to begin with. Some of the menace of It is lost in this translation.
Georgie. To me it was a surprising choice that Georgie, and most of It’s victims, were all taken missing, meaning that Bill and the others continue to speculate that he might be alive somewhere. It makes Georgie into a McGuffin for Bill to chase, rather than a deep loss he is helpless to reverse and eager to avenge. There’s some of that, but Georgie being missing muddies the waters a little.
Beverly. There’s been feminist backlash on the portrayal of Bev – that she is too sexualized for a 12-year-old. I see where that comes from – the way she is oggled in her underwear by the boys when they go swimming at the quarry; the way she flirts with Mr. Keane to help the boys shoplift from the drugstore; turning her father into an obvious sexual predator rather than merely physically abusive. Some of the sexualization comes from the source material, though (in one notable book scene, most agree that it goes too far), and I’m willing to let it be because she’s hitting puberty, and sexualization at puberty is a fact of life, legal or not.
Another criticism surrounding the Beverly of the movie is how It captures her and takes her hostage to lure the boys into the sewer in the third act. This makes her into a “damsel in distress.” The Beverly of the book is sensitive, but tough as nails and can easily hold her own with the boys. Although I agree that it is sad to see the storytelling fall back on this regressive trope, I think we get enough of the hardcore Beverly to make up for it – way more than in the miniseries, where Bev is much more fragile. Sophia Lillis is excellent – she crushes it.
Stan. One of the more fraught members of the Loser’s Club, I have gone into depth about my thoughts on him. The standout moment to me was when he became separated from the Losers and almost eaten by It – to the point where he came away with bite wounds all over his face. In the immediate aftermath of that trauma, he is left screaming and lashing out at the other Losers, feeling betrayed and left behind by them to die. This insecurity, in a way, helps solidify the stakes of the Losers’ friendship and devotion to each other. Does it telegraph his fate?
The Bullies. The movie really kind of missed the boat with the bullies. Henry Bowers reclaims that disgusting moment where he carves his initial into Ben’s belly flesh with a knife, but other than that, the palpable menace that the book and the miniseries achieve, of a bully who really does become a truly mortal danger, is missing. This may be due to lack of screen time, though – in a few transcendent moments, mulleted ’80s Henry seems ahead of his time a decade before the era of school shootings.
The Losers Club. The boys’ friendship has a lived-in quality from the start – that is to say, Richie, Bill, Stan, and Eddie, the first four Losers. The integration of Ben, Beverly, and Mike is seamless. One thing that strikes me is that the script doesn’t go out of its way to provide the characters’ last names (with the exception of Beverly). The miniseries made a big deal out of making sure we heard the names “Mike Hanlon,” “Stan Uris,” “Eddie Kaspbrak,” etc. For most of the movie, we just hear “Mike,” “Stan,” “Eddie,” etc. If you hadn’t read the book, or stayed for the credits, you wouldn’t have known those last names. This makes it seem more like we’re dropping in on the characters’ lives, rather than being told “Look! Here are the characters you love from the book! They have the same names and everything.” Antcillary details remain from the book – Bill’s stutter, Richie’s glasses, Eddie’s inhaler, etc. – but it really feels like these characters are parallel-universe versions of our beloved characters. “Inspired-by,” not “based-on.”
For superfans of the book like myself, It is about the friendships; the clown is just window-dressing. I was a pre-teen loser myself when I first read the book, and the thought of a group friendship that could stand up not only to heartbreak and loss, but against unfathomable evil, spoke to something deep down in me. The “It” miniseries was successful in catching this spirit in the famous “Help me!” scene that Jonathan Brandis carries. As we closed in on the climax of the new film, I was afraid that the movie wouldn’t give us – or wouldn’t earn – any such moments. In the climax, though, as Bill has to come to terms with his brother’s death and his friends rally around him, both to comfort him with hugs and to stand and fight alongside him, the camaraderie sneaks up on you in a way that feels earned.
What did you think of the new film version of IT?