I think the biggest problem with it — and “It” — is that the remake is a straight-up horror flick that forgot to include the epic feeling of backstory that is inherent in all of Stephen King’s writing, to say nothing of the well-realized character complications that made the 1990 miniseries breathe beyond its material.
Which is not to say that “It” 2.0 is a bad film by any stretch. It is competently made horror that takes its subject of a shape-shifting evil clown that chews on frightened children as seriously as such a ludicrous premise could be, but as with nearly all adaptations of Mr. King’s writing, the author’s preternatural gift for storytelling and understanding of the human condition has been lost in its translation to film. That is perhaps not terribly surprising given that film is, by necessity, a visual medium, and “It” is, above all else, a scare film.
And to reiterate, it is effective — if not especially amazing.
Alas, “It” 2017 cannot help but bear the burden of comparison to the 1990 TV miniseries, which, for this reviewer, caused a fear of the dark that is difficult to express even 27 years later. Tim Curry’s take on Pennywise, the personification of all that is unholy, was made even more frightening given that Mr. Curry’s natural comedic touch shined through even while portraying the mother of all villains, which paradoxically served to make his evil clown that much scarier.
Pennywise this time out is portrayed by the Swedish actor Bill Skarsgard (son of Stellan, and born the same year the 1990 telefilm aired), who does a bang-up job of embodying the stuff of nightmares whenever he is on screen as the creature who inhabits the sewers and feasts on children, but “It” gives him little else to do other than go “boo.” He’s unsettling without being unnerving.
I wish that so many horror cliches didn’t turn up as often as the clown, be it the soundtrack pop whenever something scary happens or the portentous score by Benjamin Wallfisch more or less underlining every moment with “beware: scary stuff afoot” cues.
But I suppose you can enjoy the new “It” on its own merits more so if you have never seen the original miniseries or read Mr. King’s source novel (the latter of which I have not). The film features a literal haunted house and jump scares a-plenty to satisfy both horror fans and induce many a scream from their wives or girlfriends (or boyfriends or husbands).
Director Andy Muschietti knows the words, if not the music, of what makes horror movies scary. The elements are all there, but after the first 10 or so times the clown pops out from behind a bush, doorway or toilet seat, how much more can he really wring from us in a film that runs well past two hours?
I don’t know, man, maybe I’m cranky and cynical, but I’ve always found the best horror flicks work when we’re invested in the characters and their plights. The teenagers and preteens who portray the seven members of the “Loser’s Club” in the film are each distinct in their own way — and well done for the filmmakers going for the hard “R” and allowing their young protagonists to swear as kids their age actually do — but they don’t expand much beyond one-line descriptors like “the stuttering one,” “the smartass,” “the Jewish kid,” “the fat kid,” “the black kid,” “the girl.”
For this I don’t fault the young thespians, who shoulder a hefty burden of not only needing to act both frightened and brave beyond their years — and do so admirably — but the script and the direction for making them little more than pawns for the clown to toy with. (For comparison, think of the four lads from another Stephen King-inspired film, “Stand By Me,” who remain memorable three decades after that Rob Reiner-directed work.)
Little need be said of the plot beyond what the trailer doesn’t let you know — nor that there miiiiiiight be a sequel — but I’ll just say that the new “It” is a well-crafted horror flick that has excised most of the prosaic tones that Mr. King applies throughout his writing, and which made the 1990 miniseries more than just a scarefest.
Enjoy it, I suppose, but I recommend picking up a book, any book, soon as the credits roll.
Rated R: Contains teen and preteen profanity, buckets of blood, evil red balloons and can’t sleep, clown’ll eat me…can’t sleep, clown’ll eat me…
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