Saturday, September 16, 2017

Movie Reviews: IT

directed by Andy Muschietti
The director of this film, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, also directed the film, Mama, reviewed here.
Because they have so much internal commentary and deep characterization, many of Stephen King's novels have resisted well-done cinematic adaptations. 

Muschietti got most of the important things in IT right. Muschietti successfully adapted the letter and spirit of King's novel while prudently dropping a few of King's written events that would not have translated to the screen or to mainstream audiences.

Whereas Tolkien famously said that he disliked allegory, I do not think that King has ever made a similar statement. King crammed allegory and metaphor about the loss of childhood innocence into the novel IT. To quote a famous rock song that came out shortly before this novel we have to "Hold on to sixteen/as long as you can/Changes come around real soon/make us women and men". The director and screenwriter do an admirable job of capturing the unease and discomfort of youth sliding into adolescence with adulthood right around the corner. 

The movie gives us a supernatural trans-dimensional monster that stalks the children of Derry, Maine. The film subtly argues that this monster is no more dangerous to the children than such real life evils as physical abuse, incest, poverty, emotional assaults,  and racism or bigotry. 

And if the kids survive they will presumably have to confront the moral blindness, desperation and despair that too often accompany adulthood. The director does not beat you over the head with this argument. The director makes children the film's focus and shows adults from children's POV. 

The adults in IT are blind to the eldritch evil that infests their town. As a group, they are despicable in their own right. We meet a gruff grandfather who insists that his gentle grandson slaughter sheep because it's better to be the killer than it is to be the victim. We meet an impatient rabbi who cruelly mocks his son's understanding of the Jewish tradition. 

We meet a crass bullying police officer who passes on the desire to hurt people to his son. We meet a father who apparently desires, and may have already gained, carnal knowledge of his daughter. We meet an obese mother who is scared of the outside world. She insists on sharing that fear with her son no matter what. The adults in Derry are uniformly a bunch of unpleasant to downright dangerous people. 

As with King's similar setting in Salem's Lot, the viewer may question if the town is bad because of the monster or if the monster was attracted to the town because of the people. In 1988 Maine, a boy named Georgie disappears. Well the audience knows he does not disappear because we see the titular character aka Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) lure the boy close to a sewer opening and eat him. 

The boy's older brother Bill (Jaden Lieberher) feels guilt and responsibility for his brother's disappearance. Bill made Georgie a paper boat to play with in the rain. Bill thinks and hopes that Georgie is still alive. Bill's parents don't want to talk about Georgie's disappearance. In the summer of 1989 Bill has just graduated from middle school. In the fall he will, along with his friends, enter high school. All of his friends are, like Bill because of his stutter and shyness, people who are on the outskirts of youth society. Bill's friends include:
  • Richie (Finn Wolfhard), a profane bespectacled nerd who never stops talking and pretends to be much more experienced at everything than he actually is.
  • Eddie (Jack Grazer), an undersized asthmatic hypochondriac with a smothering mother.
  • Ben (Jeremy Taylor) the obese shy new kid at school. He has a crush on Beverly.
  • Mike (Chosen Jacobs), apprentice butcher to his grandfather.  Mike is Black. Town residents murdered Mike's parents in a racial incident possibly inspired by IT.
  • Stan (Wyatt Oleff), like Eddie, something of a germaphobe. Jewish.
  • Beverly (Sophia Lillis) the only female member of the band. Other girls wrongly accuse Beverly of being promiscuous. They bully her. Beverly has just started to cycle. Her profoundly creepy father (Stephen Bogaert) notices this.
Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) is the most dangerous school bully. Bill and company help each other. They call themselves the Losers Club. Ben and Mike share with the group the strange history of disappearances and other violent occurrences within Derry. 

These things seem to be primarily, though not always, centered on children. Before long the children see things that should not be there, which can not possibly exist. Adults never see these things. However, these visions are real and dangerous. The children determine, after some detective work, that all of the apparitions they see are actually different forms worn by the same entity, IT. IT/Pennywise shows up every 26-28 years to steal children and/or inspire mayhem. 

The children decide to fight back against IT. This movie does not have as many jump scares as people have become used to seeing in horror films. It does have a fair amount of CGI. This CGI is not unique. Jump scares and CGI are not why this was a good film.

IT constantly uses darkness, loneliness and the unknown.  That is why IT works as a horror film. When IT murders Georgie, Georgie is alone on a residential street. Georgie might as well be on the moon. No one sees him. The children can't tell the adults what's happening. The adults would not believe them. The adults are completely incapable of seeing IT or evidence that it left behind.

Children venture into dark basements or libraries where the primary human sense of sight isn't effective. They can't see IT any more than the adults can at that point. And not knowing what's out there is always scary. But IT is not limited to the night by any means. Skarsgard provides a tour de force performance as Pennywise/IT. 

No one knows what IT is. We see Pennywise and immediately know that the clown is a cover for something else. We see IT suddenly stop talking to Georgie and just stare at him, drooling. There are number of disturbing and just weird scenes like that scattered throughout this film. Pennywise is something that spends a lot of energy pretending to be something that it is not. Occasionally it apparently gets tired of the disguise. 

Much like a starving man wearing shoes that don't fit Pennywise occasionally gets frustrated or very hungry and shucks off the painful covering.  The viewer is, in my opinion, better able to transcend their disbelief and enter the movie's reality than they would be for other horror movies.

IT deserves an R rating. IT doesn't have as much gore as you might think. However, the titular monster endangers and eats children. IT can also inspire mayhem against adults when it has good reason. This movie thankfully lacks sex, something that wasn't true of the book. Nevertheless the director gives the viewer the very strong implication that Beverly's father has been or would like to be inappropriate with her, perhaps even more so now that she is physically becoming a woman. 

And Beverly herself is becoming aware of how she can get boys or men to do things that they wouldn't do for other males. The director shows this in a scene with the pharmacist that could be equally understood as humorous or disturbing.  IT hits some of the same spots as movies like Stand By Me or The Goonies. The director stumbled a bit in giving too much of Mike's purpose and themes to Ben. I would advise everyone that this is not a movie for young kids. IT is also a coming of age story. Moving towards adulthood frightens the children. 

I think that IT can be understood as a metaphor for how childhood fears and traumas shape us as adults or even prevent us from reaching adulthood. But you don't have to read all of that into the movie. It's a strong movie that delivers the goods. It's a little over two hours but never drags. This movie only covered the first half or so of King's novel. There will be a sequel. The children will be adults.
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