The general rule of thumb for horror films in the past decade or so has been: jump scares, graphic violence, and loud noises. The 2017 feature film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel IT is no exception. Thankfully, that isn’t all it employs.
I went in to IT not knowing quite what to expect. I saw the trailers and was able to surmise, based on my knowledge of the 1990 mini series, that it was going to exclusively focus on the members of the “Loser’s Club” as children, growing up in Derry. Apart from that, I wasn’t sure what exactly I was getting myself in to. Aside from the nostalgic horror, it seemed to be a run of the mill horror flick. Typically, I am not a huge fan of the genre, but I was interested all the same. Would this be a nostalgia cash grab with a lot of blood and gore, jump scares, and slamming doors?
IT (2017 Feature Film)
This version of IT takes place, once again, in the small town of Derry, Main. Unlike the mini series, it exclusively follows the lives of our main characters as children, and follows a fairly consistent linear story. It begins with the death of little George Denbrough, who chases the paper boat his big brother Bill made him and ends up getting his arm chomped off.
The passage of time is shown with title cards, which typically display in the lower left side of the screen, that read what month they are in. Although the movie makes a fairly good point of letting us know that all the events that take place, happen over the course of one summer break, it does help facilitate alerting the audience to large passages of time that might not be otherwise apparent without dedicating an awkward expository line. As someone who hates expository dialogue like “hey, it’s been a month since we had that fight” – I appreciated the decision not to do that. In fact, all the dialogue felt very authentic.
During the first part of the film, we are slowly introduced to each member of the “Loser’s Club”. Most of these kids are already friends. This includes, Bill, Eddie, Richie, and Stanley. Newcomers Ben and Beverly are kids that they know casually or by reputation, either as the new kid or as “that” girl (the kind with a bad reputation). Later on, they meet and befriend Mike, who they know only as “the homeschool kid”. As we get to know each of these kids, we slowly unravel what their home lives are like and watch as they come face to face with Pennywise. This includes the town delinquent, Henry Bowers, who appears periodically to add further strife to the kids lives. But Henry is not without his own demons. He is noticeably afraid of his father and as the film progresses, grows more and more unhinged.
When the “Losers” all finally come together, Bill convinces them to search out the monster’s hiding place, convinced that his brother and the other missing children might still be alive somewhere in the sewers. However, their first foray into the lion’s den nearly get’s them killed and the group separates. At least, until one of their friends becomes the next missing kid.
After seeing the film (in a completely sold out theatre – no less), I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. I think I’ll be able to sleep tonight without nightmares but I was definitely holding my breath throughout the film. IT is a, sometimes scary, sometimes horrifying, sometimes intentionally hilarious movie that truly gets the fears and wonder of childhood right. The young actors were all great. I believed them and actually grew to like them all by the time the movie finished.
It should also be noted that the time period was one story point that was given a lot of attention. This movie is very 80’s. There are two reasons, I can think of, for the story changing in this way. First, it allows the sequel to be set closer to present day – much like the original novel would have been when it came out. The second, is that…. well let’s just be honest. The 80’s are kind of in right now. Hollywood is a business and sometimes story ideas are shaped by the will of what executives believe will sell. The adults today feel a sense of nostalgia for the 80’s, so why not give the people what they long for? We are suckers for seeing the tropes we loved as kids re-done with a bigger budget and better special effects – so why not give us a darker, scarier version of Stranger Things? Are you not entertained? You are? Well good. Now shut up and give us your money!
Despite the change in time period, the overall themes of dealing with the very real fears of childhood remain unaffected. But these changes do affect the story in major ways, since plot elements that would have made sense in the original wouldn’t be fashionable during this revised time period. As a result, many of the kids most notable characteristics, backstories, and fears, had to be altered. Most notably, Mike’s relationship with the town and why he’s considered an “outsider”, and Richie’s brand of humor.
I might not have thought wholly it necessary to change the time period but I appreciated it all the same. This film is not trying to be a remake of the 1990 mini-series. It does not utilize the same format of bouncing back and forth through time. I almost expected that the movie to end with a flash forward to 27 years later, with an adult Bill Denbrough picking up the phone and hearing someone say, “It’s back”.
This film took many of the plot points from the 1990 mini-series and of the book and told a complete story about the children and only the children. No stinger necessary. No set up for a sequel- except for the end title card that reads, IT: Part One. By structuring the story this way, we are not getting a story about adults with a traumatic childhood. We are getting a complete story about children who learn to overcome their fears.
This movie wasn’t what I was expecting. I wasn’t expecting to have as much fun watching a remake of something that scared the living hell out of me as a kid. Yes, Pennywise the Dancing Clown is still pure nightmare fuel and the addition of modern special effects makes him even more chilling. Yet, unlike the mini-series that scared me when I was young, the big take away this time was the kids. Every other frightening or unnerving scene was broken up by moments of laugher. It served as a much needed cathartic release for the perpetual onslaught of disturbing imagery the film employed.
This movie was not about IT. It was about the kids who defeated IT. And that makes a world of difference.
But how does this differ from the source material. I have, thus far, looked at the mini-series and the feature film. Will the book bridge the gap? Or will the original novel tell a different kind of story altogether?
Time to hit the books!