This review was originally published on Tommy Block’s (2017) website, The Block Review. Visit the site to read a full assortment of his music and movie reviews.
While I’ve timidly come to break the ice with the horror genre, I can’t say that it’s been on my radar until recently — in other words, I’m probably not the best person to review this film. I guess I made it through Get Out (smart scary), and to be honest, I whizzed past The Conjuring 2 (stupid but “gotcha” scary). Those, to be fair, were neat displays of camera tricks rather than tests of courage, designed not to torment but to entrance (to varying degrees of effectiveness). Nevertheless, adorning an ill-advised confidence in my tolerance threshold, my weak knees strode just a little more buoyantly than usual into It, the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s book and the remake of the 1990 television film.
Cockiness — as I soon discovered — is something that It will not accept out of its audience. Director Andy Muschietti — whose debut Mama was released in 2013 — does not kindly request for your comfort to be surrendered; he plans to muscle it out of you. The film cycles between two elementary dynamics of suspense — Muschietti’s slow, trembling twist of a rusty crank, followed by the sudden, tremendous blast of a visual jack-in-the-box leaping from its shadowy lair (not to reinforce the clown theme for the review, of course). The scenes belonging to the former device, however, are tightly crammed to punctuate the latter ones, which are alarmingly — if not obnoxiously — dilated to cringe-worthy decibel levels. Frankly, I resorted to peaking through my fingers at points, but Muschietti never hesitated to pin the other arm to my back. Is this the way I’m supposed to feel watching something like this? Afterwards, I don’t feel kneaded and shaped as much as I do exhausted, bruised. Under no circumstances is this to be your first scary movie; not only is it much too frightening, but the scares aren’t even all that worth it.
I went in thinking the film was supposed to be about a clown, and I was right, to an extent. The monster that haunts the otherwise cozy town of Derry, Maine is more like a spirit, a mental virus that plucks kids from the streets and feasts on their minds by scaring them loose. The thing assumes the form of its victims’ intimate fears, so “It” could appear as a spindly, disjointed doll to one person and as an 8 A.M. Monday exam to the next.
Half of the movie is nostalgic (and relatively light); it’s set in the late 80s’, when bikes were kids’ only way to get around, when the closest screen was at the arcade, when deals weren’t made official until you shook a hand with spit in it. The heroes are hopelessly innocuous pre-teen males, and their nippy, comedic banter — which serves as a relieving placeholder for when they aren’t screaming in peril — is organic enough to make me like at least part of the movie, even if their attributes have been recycled from decades of coming-of-age tales prior. The boys — including Jaeden Lieberher from St. Vincent and Finn Wolfhard from television’s Stranger Things — stumble over each other comparing what little masculinity they can individually muster (in the only measurable way that you can guess), and they are mystified with Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), the cool social recluse from school who miraculously stoops down to their caste to hang out with them.
This ragtag crew of juniors will be the ones to confront It, which has reemerged after twenty-seven years in accordance with the local lore that the boys have been either selfless or bored enough to research (the parents, as a tribute to films like Stand By Me, are always wrong in this movie). That children are being targeted in particular sets a dark, itchy tone for the picture in itself, especially when Muschietti dips down for the gore. I’m not sure why It cuts Itself short; many of the movie’s images will have no problem spooking adults well enough to have some change left over. Clowns — perched at the very base of the uncanny valley — represent more of a universal queasiness at this point than a repressed one. Bill Skarsgard is acting at full throttle behind the make-up as Pennywise here, and while he gets the “A” for effort, you can’t help but think he’s beating the easy gig like a dead horse.
As unsettling as It can be at times, the film often pulls its punches before it even delivers them. The red flags aren’t embezzled into clues as much as they are left out in the open territory of cliché. The eternal paradox of this genre: how can the main characters be so adept at realizing their town’s hidden dangers while still being dull enough to enter the dark hallway? It attempts to provide an answer that I’d like to believe, but it’s also worth questioning whether these people are downright asking for it (no pun intended).
That said, would I revisit the film for a second opinion? Nope. Not if you paid me. As a matter of fact, I will not confirm nor deny whether I had my eyes turned away for a hefty chunk of the show. You, dear reader, do not have to trust my unreliable narration; I for one will move on to reclaim a good night’s rest.