Stephen King‘s properties are again making the rounds as tentpole film events — just a few months ago we had The Dark Tower, and now we have another of his literary classics, It, taking the jump to the big screen. Originally published back in ’86 and widely celebrated at the time, this new film with the story brought forward in a largely faithful adaptation suffers from immediate comparisons to other works that have come along since then and it doesn’t always stand up favorably.
As a horror story, taken in the context of when it was written would have been decently unnerving. Unfortunately, by 2017, it is about as milquetoast of a horror film as 50 Shades of Grey is to the BSDM community. Members of the audience who either aren’t regular horror watchers might jump here or there. For audiences who have spent the last three decades with films like Saw, American Horror Story: Freak Show, and Carnival of Souls, the only people likely to react are those who might be afflicted with coulrophobia to begin with.
That demonic clown from the trailer and posters is Pennywise the Dancing Clown (played by Bill Skarsgård), who appears every 27 years to capture children from the small New England town of Derry and to drag them down into the depths of the sewers mostly never to be seen again. After several children begin to vanish once again, a band of local youth gather together as the Losers Club (all of whom are as would be expected are all of the town’s outcasts and most bullied kids). They begin to investigate the mystery of the clown and why so many children vanish and yet the adults barely seem to notice.
Right now the gang of kids dealing with terrors unseen by the adults around them does more than echo Netflix’s Stranger Things. What does carry through is King’s masterful ability to write coming of age tales. In that aspect, it does work spectacularly — the handful of outcast friends, making up the Losers’ Club, and their respective struggles with bullying, abuse, and social invisibility make for some of the most compelling parts of the film. Jaeden Leiberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, and Jack Dylan Grazer each deliver in turn, with Lillis standing foremost among them.
The premise of a demon/poltergeist that feeds on fears is also hardly original, with an example most recently in 2016’s Lights Out. That particular trope will most often also include lead characters who wind up taking a bit to sort together the clues until they understand the manner in which to attempt to fight back.
It’s not a bad film, it just suffers from a perceived lack of originality by a modern audience and a mediocre level of horror. Skarsgård does his best to exude demonic menace through a classic clown guise, and does as well as any contemporary actor could manage. In the end his efforts aren’t hampered by his talents but by a 80s mindscape that took clowns whispering “come ‘ere little boy” to be the most horrifying concept of all time.
As a starter horror film, something for young adults to get into the genre, it will probably wind up being a new-era classic. However even in that category, if you’re looking for perfect starter horror film, the Disney classic film Something Wicked This Way Comes would do a far better job.
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