Living with disappointment - A first reaction to "It"

Tim Curry as IT in the 1990 ABC Miniseries

Tim Curry as IT in the 1990 ABC Miniseries

 

Boy, oh, boy, where do I even begin?

For the past year, I’ve been an enthusiastic, almost obsessed ambassador for the new IT movie, with excitement levels that have reached record-setting highs. IT was one of the first, and only, horror books I’ve read, and the graphic novel gripped me from the opening pages. 1,200 pages later, I felt changed, as I was exposed to a story I had never quite seen before. It had soul. It had character. It had horror, gore, repulsive language, thematic elements, disturbing, funny, and twisted content. It had everything.

With any story, however, I believe the most important aspect is to take the viewer on an emotional journey. Throughout the novel, each character is weaved and intertwined together in some weird type of butterfly effect; their lives and misfortunes connecting with the other, up until the climax of the book. We know these characters and their actions resonate with us on a deeply personal, almost primal level. What would you do to survive and stop a murderous shape-shifting creature that prefers to take the shape of a killer clown? Would you run or fight back? Would you tell anyone what you saw? How would you sleep at night? What would doing homework be like? Brushing your teeth? Walking down your street? Taking a shower? Getting ready for bed? The list goes on and on and on. It is endless.

In the 2017 film, we are robbed of the realism that fear brings. One second a killer shape-shifting clown is jumping to kill you, and the next, it’s nearly forgotten, and you’re onto the next subject. This is not how fear works. Fear consumes the entire nature of the human body. Think back on a time when you were truly terrified. Take a second, close your eyes, and remember how you felt. Can you remember? I can think back to times I was motionless, numb, too scared to move; almost like an awakened sleep paralysis experience. And, what about when that fearful experience ends? It’s nearly impossible to get up and use the restroom, yet alone, go through your day like nothing happened.

That is where the new film falls completely flat. Even in the 1990 miniseries, in this scene, we see that Ben is excited because he hears the voice of his father speaking to him. But, Ben’s father has been dead for some time now. Something is not right. Yet, Ben has a slight belief that this might actually be his father.

“Daddy?!” he calls.

Not exactly.

As a viewer (and Ben) we can see that something is a little off about his dead “father” here. He seems detached from the real-world and starts talking to his son about his new home, the sewer, in a way that just seems so completely off.

“That’s my home now son! Do you want a balloon Ben?”

As his voice intertwines with Pennywise’s, Ben realizes that his initial gut feeling was correct, and something bad is happening to him. As his dead father appears with balloons and orange buttons and then shifts into a clown, we are left asking what the hell we just saw. In the 2017 adaptation, there are no scenes quite like this one. In both the novel and the mini-series, Pennywise takes a personal vendetta against these seven children. In the past, IT kills and eats to stay alive, taking the town of Derry completely by storm. But, IT always moves on to IT’s next kill.

With these broken, often abused children, there is something different about “The Losers” that seems to resonate with Pennywise as well. They are his most challenging prey. They know they are being attacked by a nightmarish demon/entity, and eventually, they all fight back. When Pennywise stares directly at Ben (and the viewer) in this scene, it feels personal. IT is taunting us all and knows it. In the 2017 film, I never quite got this feeling. An evil monster pops out, the children react, and then we cut to the next scene.

Without the use of flashbacks and voiceovers that were utilized in the 1990 version, we are left asking why? Why is Stan so scared? Why is Beverly so strong? Why are Mike and Benso interested in the history of Derry? Why is Henry Bowers so crazy? Patrick Hocksetter? The adults of Derry? We get a look into two adults throughout the entirety of the 2017 film, Beverly Marsh’s father and Eddie Kasbrak’s mother. But, it doesn’t really resonate because we don’t get to know more about these characters and delve deep into their psyche. That’s tough to accomplish in a film, but the best ones always manage to pull it off.

When you watch a film like Goodfellas or Stand By Me, we get an inside look into the psyche, attitude and charisma of a character. It is a storytelling technique, if used properly, that is the closest representation to a novel. Words force a reader to dive into their own brains to ask questions, form opinions, have visions and build fears. We are scared in the novel because our brains are the scariest places in the world. Anything can happen up there, and if we’re not careful, we could completely fall off the hinges at any time.

In the novel, I could smell the stench of the sewers and the impending doom that Pennywise and those smells represented. It oozed off the pages, with the deep stench of shit and piss running rampant through my nostrils and forcing me to question my own sewers in my town. Did something live down there? Has something always lived down there?

What the fuck is wrong with me?

That is powerful stuff. With the CGI and monster feel of IT in the 2017 version, I think they missed the mark. Everyone has a vision and I cannot begin to fathom how hard it is to balance and create a Hollywood production, but I now believe that IT would actually work better as an absolutely terrifying television show, or mini-series. Maybe they had it right back in 1990. Or, with 10 episodes a season, can you imagine the deep dive we could take into the characters and all of their fears? They’d quickly become our own fears, and that is why the novel worked so well.

While ambitious, I also did not particularly love the child-only perspective of the 2017 film. It felt a bit corny and we never got to see how the kids acted when they didn’t see Pennywise take form. I always saw the nightmarish sequences in IT as just that, pure nightmares. But, I didn’t get this in the 2017 adaptation.

This is a nightmare, folks.

We don’t immediately see it but the movie changes form here. It looks different, it feels different and as we start to see, it is different. Nancy is no longer living in reality but in Freddy’s world. And, that is truly the route I hoped for in IT. Pennywise’s world. But IT’s world seemed contrived, almost laughable to me. Not scary. Nothing like Freddy’s world. Not even close, actually.

I’ll see the film again after it leaves theaters and I’m sure I’ll see some things I missed, but with the lackluster acting from Stan and Mike, poor writing for these characters, a lack of connection with the Losers and the rest of Derry and Pennywise, I just felt as if I was watching a puppet show where an evil monster puppet was controlled up until the very end. IT is unique because the characters are so important to the overall context of the story.

So, when the film begins with each character and their encounter with Pennywise, it just didn’t add up for me. If I hadn’t read the book, I’m sure it would. I’m almost positive it would. But, it didn’t. My own fears didn’t bleed out onto the screen, and for me, that was a major miss.

IT — 6.5/10