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It, the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel which exploits childhood fears of clowns, opened in September setting records with many critics saying it may actually prove the salvation of a lackluster, to say the least, summer box office.
It reached 85% on Rotten Tomatoes and based on anecdotal evidence of my Facebook page, most everyone I know swears by it, heralding it as the emperor in a new golden age of horror movies.
But for me, it’s the emperor’s new clothes and one of the worst films of the year.
The film starts off rather promisingly with a grabber scene that dramatizes the first abduction of a child by that evil clown, Mr. Pennywise. Though the scene depends on one of the largest sewer openings I’ve ever seen (and seems to change size for the convenience of the story, which should have been the real hint of what was to come), it was still a pretty harrowing scene and sets up a rather nice metaphor for child molesting.
But after this, almost nothing makes sense, even within the context of horror films.
The most impressive aspect of the film aesthetically is its use of the town of Derry as a stand in for a typical small American town of the 1980’s (you know it’s a period piece the moment our intrepid heroes just drop their bikes willy nilly without locking them up). When shown from a distance, the beautiful fall colors and brick buildings overcome you with a breathtaking feeling of nostalgia (one of the fortuitous things that helped generate interest in the film was the surprise hit television show Stranger Things).
But after this, the plot is basically made up of a series of somewhat arbitrary jump and go boo moments that happen with no clear rhyme or reason. It’s explained later on (and it has to be explained because I never would have figured it out otherwise) that Pennywise feeds on the primary fear of each kid. A neat idea, but so blurrily dramatized, after seeing the film I couldn’t really tell you what each teen was afraid of.
Well, one. One was afraid of clowns, which seems to be a clunky story turn since Pennywise himself is one.
Even odder, when it comes to our central characters, a group, it would seem, inspired more by the Goonies than the feverish mind of King, Pennywise treats them differently than the other children disappearing.
He’s like a James Bond villain. He has no problem offing or taking out most of his victims. The only ones he can’t seem to remove just coincidentally happen to be the only ones who can take him out. And I’m not sure if it’s explained why he killed only one child, in the opening, rather than just feed on his fear and suspend him.
So the jump and go boo scenes become more and more arbitrary and even redundant until I was laughing at the obvious manipulation of them. I just couldn’t be scared.
I’m sure you will not be surprised that the intrepid teens take out the face painted villain. But the ending is not only unresolved, it is gigantically unresolved. The kids come upon what looks like fifty or more of others like themselves floating in space. When Pennywise is disposed of, they come floating down.
But what the movie fails to tell us is first, whether these floaters are still alive, and second, just what the hell did our heroes tell everyone about what happened?
This final scene also reveals a huge flaw in the movie. This is a huge number of kids to go missing in a relatively short period of time. When that dawns on you, then you realize that the town is not remotely acting like a center of child disappearances. The city has a curfew, but that’s a ridiculously underwhelming response to what is going on (especially since so many of the children went missing during the day).
If this many kids were going missing, the city would be inundated by outside authorities like the FBI, private detectives and media from the world over.
The direction is by Andy Muschietti and it must be admitted that the movie looks good. The script is by Chase Palmer, Gary Dauberman and Cary Fukunaga (who was originally supposed to direct), and it must be admitted… well, the film looks good (though I wonder how many of the flaws of the movie can be traced to the source material).
With Bill Skarsgard as Mr. Pennywise. Not an easy performance to forget, I’ll wager, but the best one is given by Sophia Lillis as the token girl of the group.