CAST: Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Nicholas Hamilton
DIRECTED BY: Andy Muschietti
WRITTEN BY: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman (from Stephen King’s novel)
RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes
WHAT RHYMES WITH “IT” AND FLOATS, TOO?: A REVIEW OF THE IT (2017) D.V.D. SANS SPOILERS
by Jim Wallace
In August 2016, a nine-year-old boy in South Carolina told his mother that two clowns had tried to lure him into the nearby woods. Social media and hoaxes fueled a frenzy; and by mid-October 2016, “evil clown” sightings had been reported in nearly all U.S. states, nine out of thirteen provinces and territories of Canada, and eighteen other countries.
Was this actually a viral marketing campaign for the 2017 movie It, based upon Stephen King’s 1986 novel about a supernatural entity that appears primarily in the form of a clown to attract its preferred prey of young children? Did it manage to fool its marks as effectively as the eponymous “It” fools its? That would help explain the critical success and commercial mega-success of a movie that (despite what its superbly scary teaser trailers promise) isn’t very good.
In fact, it’s as trashy and campy as the worst adaptations of Stephen King’s works. And it’s as corny, campy, and childish as the cult classic The Goonies (1985)—which was obviously an influence—but not in a good way. At least half the time, It feels more like a Spielbergian children’s fantasy instead of an R-rated horror film. And this annoying dissonance in tone is matched by the holes in its plot and premise and the inconsistencies in its setting.
It takes place in the fictional small city of Derry, Maine in the summer of 1989. But it seems more like the late 1950s—which is when the corresponding early half of the mega-novel takes place—with self-consciously tacked-on references to Mark Wahlberg’s old boy band New Kids on the Block, the “Street Fighter” video arcade game, and John Hughes movie icon Molly Ringwald. And Derry, like almost everything else in the movie, lacks verisimilitude.
Stephen King just loves to tell stories about supernatural evils afflicting “Peyton Place,” and It’s Derry is an SJW’s nightmare world of racism, antisemitism, incest, child neglect/abuse, and bullying. (Is fitting the liberal narrative about “Trump’s America”another reason for the movie’s preposterous success?) And the movie’s protagonists, who form “The Losers’ Club,” are a gaggle of 13-year-olds excluded and bullied for various social impediments.
Bill stutters, Richie is a bespectacled loudmouth, Eddie is a victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, Stan is Jewish, Ben is an obese bookworm, Beverly has a reputation as a “dirty girl,” and Mike is African-American. And unlike the four misfit 12-year-old boys in Stand by Me (1986), another film based upon a Stephen King story and that was obviously another influence upon It, they’re so unlikeable that the audience is actually tempted to side with It and the gang of four juvenile delinquents who bully them.
That gang is led by Henry Bowers, a switchblade-brandishing sociopath who’s like a fledgling serial killer version of “Ace” Merrill, the main villain in the far superior Stand by Me. His gang’s near-homicidal bullying of Mike and Ben beggars suspension of disbelief. And so does the ignorance and child neglect of Derry’s adults. Derry’s adults “die or disappear six times the national average,” and the rate for kids is “way, way worse.” But the adults, other than imposing a 7 p.m. curfew, don’t seem too concerned.
This, along with Henry Bowers’s excesses, must be the doing of It, who has some telepathic as well as shapeshifting abilities; but the movie never explains this. And instead of exploring the themes of losing one’s innocence and accepting one’s mortality, It preaches the mawkish message of sticking together and not being afraid. Of course, not being afraid isn’t too difficult for the audience because the movie isn’t very horrifying or terrifying.
The movie’s only terror and horror come from “jump scares,” visual effects, and Bill Skarsgård’s exquisitely creepy performance as “Pennywise the Dancing Clown,” the most common embodiment of It. After the strong opening scene, the movie abruptly becomes uneven and disjointed. There’s no sense of steadily mounting dread, of the ground shifting under one’s feet. It feels like a slow walk through an R-rated funhouse, rather than the masterwork of horror it is supposed to be and could’ve been.
⦁ “Pennywise Lives”: This featurette is about Bill Skarsgård’s performance as the eponymous monster. He was the only one who wore clown makeup while auditioning for the part, “brought incredible passion” to the role, and was able to do a weird “lip thing” and a “lazy eye,” things he’d “been meaning to put into a character.” Pennywise is It’s “favorite form”: It “really enjoys doing the clown.” So Skarsgård wanted to portray that It’s “having fun while he’s doing this” and “there’s kind of glitches almost, that it’s not just a clown, it’s something off, something weird, or something even more sinister.”
⦁ “The Losers’ Club”: This featurette is about the seven young thespians’ portrayal of “The Losers.” Director Andy Muschietti picked players who have “the DNA of those characters,” hired them a performance coach, and let them “pitch in [their] ideas.” The movie is “about friendship and how these friends pull together to get through tasks with each other,” and the kids became “like a family.” According to producer Barbara Muschietti, they “spent … the summer together, and they felt that this was … the end of this magical summer. Also, because they’re all 13, … it wasn’t only saying good-bye to each other but I think very much like in the book … they were saying good-bye to their childhoods.”
⦁ “Author of Fear”: This featurette is a monologue by Stephen King about his creation of It. He wanted to “take an American … small city and then have the whole thing be haunted … wanted the spirit of that creature, that entity that manifests itself most commonly as Pennywise the clown, to have infected this whole town. [The kids are] like sacrifices. They’re It’s food. [And] the adults, on some level, … all understand what’s happening, and it’s part of this Devil’s deal that they’ve all agreed to.” He based Derry upon Bangor, Maine (where he and his family settled) and drew from his childhood and his children because “the thing about fiction is you take all the reality that you can possibly take and then you change everything that you want.”
⦁ Gag opening scene: “Georgie catches boat”: In this parody version of the classic opening scene, which was obviously filmed along with the legitimate one, Pennywise isn’t quick enough to grab Georgie’s arm. So Georgie gleefuly (and obliviously) walks away with his paper boat, chirping “Thanks! See you later! Bye!” to a discomfited Pennywise. Pennywise’s facial expression as he mutters “Ohhh, shit!” must be seen!
⦁ Extended scene: “Stanley’s Dad corrects him”: Stan’s father’s rebuking of him for not having memorized the Torah is expanded a bit, and it reveals that his father is concerned with social credibility. And snowflake Stan chokes up and grovels in response, which would’ve provided the starting point of a character arc that would’ve passed through two other parts that weren’t included: Stan crying and cowering outside the Well House and Stan telling off the people of Derry at his Bar Mitzvah speech.
⦁ Deleted scene: “Denbrough family dinner”: This scene wouldn’t have moved the plot forward but would’ve shown how Georgie’s disappearance devastated Bill’s family and cast a pall over his life. It features Bill’s parents not wanting to take the family’s yearly park trip because Georgie “really looked forward to that trip,” which “was his favorite.” And would’ve been complimented by the original ending scene featuring Bill’s family leaving for the trip after being provided closure.
⦁ Deleted scene: “Bill’s dad looks in the basement, et al”: After Bill encounters “Georgie” and Pennywise in the flooded basement of the Denbrough home, he tells his wakened father about it. His father goes down to investigate but declares it “dry as a bone.” (This parallels Bev’s father not seeing the blood all over the bathroom from her own phantasmal visit by Pennywise.) Then, at the Bowers home, Henry leaves with his friends and spots Mike riding by on his bike.
⦁ Deleted scene: “Outside the Neibolt house”: This brief scene depicts Stan, Mike, Bev, and Ben trembling outside the Well House while Bill, Eddie and Richie look for It inside. It wouldn’t have moved the plot forward but would’ve increased both the sense of dread before It appears and the sense of triumph when the four finally rush in to help the other three.
⦁ Extended scene: “Evacuating the Neibolt house”: “The Losers” run out of the Well House after their initial battle with Pennywise; and in the movie there is an abrupt, awkward cut to their being scolded by Eddie’s mother in front of one of their houses. (The transition is awkward because it creates the initial impression that Eddie’s mother was waiting for them right outside the Well House.) In the extended scene, there is a short segment between the two events that provides a smooth transition.
⦁ Deleted scene: “Stanley’s Bar Mitzvah speech”: This is actually an alternate scene. It features Stan, having just completed his Bar Mitzvah, lambasting the adults in the synagogue for their “indifference” (“Becoming an adult, according to the holy scripture of Derry, is learning not to give a shit!”) and then doing a literal mic drop and walking out, causing Richie to start clapping. During a segment of his speech is a montage of brief sub-scenes of Mike, Bev, Bill, and Ben (but not Eddie?) going about their quotidian summer activities. The movie instead reduces Stan’s and Richie’s parts to brief sub-scenes and has them in a montage with the other brief sub-scenes set to the XTC song “Dear God.”
⦁ Extended scene: “Eddie at Keene’s pharmacy”: This extended version reorders two events, adds a cameo by director Andy Muschietti and an additional line of dialog by the pharmacist, and shows Gretta actually writing “LOSER” on Eddie’s cast and then putting her gum on it and winking.
⦁ Extended scene: “Henry and Bullies wait outside”: Henry watches from his Trans Am as “The Losers” return to and prepare to re-enter the Well House, and this sub-scene shows the situation inside the car. Apparently Henry decided his two remaining “friends” were dead weight. Redrum! Redrum!
⦁ Deleted scene: “The Losers find Georgie’s walkie”: In this sub-scene Bill finds Georgie’s walkie-talkie right before Henry sneaks up on Mike.
⦁ Alternate ending: “Denbrough family vacation”: This is a scene that would’ve been placed after Bev kisses Bill and walks away, which is where the movie ends. It shows that the Denbrough family has found closure and is moving on from Georgie’s death. They’re leaving in their station wagon for their yearly camping trip, and Bill’s mother tells him, “I know it’s not Acadia, but maybe we can make some new memories, just us.” They pass a storm drain as they pull away, and a thunderstorm begins. Cutting out the Denbrough family dinner scene and this scene gutted out a lot of the movie’s emotional core.