IT - Chapter One (2017)

Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard 

Screenplay by: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman

Based on: It’ by Stephen King

Directed by: Andy Muschietti

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THE THREE P’S:

PREMISE:

In this classic Stephen King fable, based on the book so gigantic you could towel-dry an entire swimming team with one copy, we find a young tween named B-B-Bill Denbrough, who is sick in bed. His little brother Georgie wants to go out and play, but it’s pouring out, so Bill decides to be responsible and save his stuttering lungs from pneumonia by… sending the six-year-old out in the rain alone. Oh wait, he’s not alone. He has a paper boat that Bill made for him. Unfortunately, due to the rain, the boat gets away from him and rushes down the nearest drain, into the town’s guttering system. However, Georgie quickly learns that someone is down there and has found his beloved paper boat. Why, it’s a clown! A friendly, trustworthy clown by the name of Pennywise.

Naturally, Georgie fails to return home, and his body is never recovered. So we move on to the next summer, the last day of school. Still-grieving Bill and his closest guy friends end the year narrowly escaping the clutches of the school’s psychotic bully and his clichéd hunchmen, whilst loner Beverly Marsh makes a new friend in the chubby Ben Hanscom.

After Ben is stalked around town and then viciously attacked by these same psychotic teenagers, he is rescued by Bill and his friends, who are snooping around the town’s drains in search of Georgie. They take him to the town’s only pharmacy, apparently run by a pedophile ring, where they run into Beverly. Soon the whole lot of them become inseparable, if only because of the unnerving creature that is haunting their daymares. This, of course, is Pennywise the Clown. Otherwise known as IT.

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“Follow this boat, Georgie. Wherever it goes. It’ll lead you to your d-d-destiny.”

PRAISE:

The biggest joy in this, at least for me, is ‘The Losers Club’ which consists of Jaeden Lieberher as Stuttering Stanley (Bill), Jeremy Ray Taylor as the chubvable Ben, Sophia Lillis as Beverly, Finn Wolfhard as potty-mouth Richie, Wyatt Oleff as pre-cut Stanley Uris, Chosen Jacobs as cattle-wimp Mike, and the fantastic Jack Dylan Grazer as everyone’s favourite mollycoddled Eddie.

Yes, like every other King story there are way too many characters with generic Christian names to remember, but I had a blast with these guys. They were so perfectly cast and enjoyable that I wish Warner Bros. had green-lit ‘The Losers!’, a light-hearted TV series that focused on them growing up. You know, around the killings and all that.

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Next week, on a very special episode of ‘The Losers!’

This movie upgrades from the book’s 1960’s setting to the late 1980's and it works very well in all shapes and forms… From music gags, how women are treated, the world of teenagers, the zeitgeist, the fashion… All without affecting how the story is told.

Production wise, yes. Just all of the yes’s. The musical score is affective and orchestral, something that is sorely missed in movies these days. There’s a not-so-wonderful scene where Stanley sees a creature in his Rabbi-father’s office, and a terrifically solo and utterly terrifying flute is played at just the right moment, and it works so well. It’s inspirational. Unfortunately, clichés run rampant all around it. But I’m so glad this movie wasn’t scored by Hans “Everywhere, Because It’s All Just Blah Sounds” Zimmer, because it would have been just blah sounds from start to finish.

The directing is glorious — Andy Muschietti has such an eye for the story he is telling. There is one particular shot near the beginning when Beverley is signing Ben’s empty yearbook. The pages are blocking his entire face except for his eyes; but in doing so you see so much more: his appreciation and adoration for her is all there, and when she moves the pages down to reveal the rest of his face, it’s gone. Just like that. It’s outstanding work from a director I’ve never heard of before.

Of course, the acting is generally great, as mentioned above with The Losers Club. I’m not quite overcome with terror at the mere sight of Bill Skarsgård in a clown suit, but most of you are. So good for you guys.

However, the standout for me is Sophia Lillis, who goes above and beyond with her role. Not only did they add the idea of Beverly cutting her hair midway as a plot-point for her inner-frustrations (in order to accommodate the actress’s personal preference), but they also let her act her freakin’ heart out. I was surprised and unsurprised when Oscars season rolled around in January 2018 and she wasn’t nominated for Supporting Actress. I won’t be one of those nerds who thinks just because I like a movie, it’s the be-all and end-all of it. But she definitely has a very promising career ahead of her, and at only fifteen she’s got a lot of time to master her craft. She is particularly brilliant in portraying the pure horror of being in a room bathed in blood, slowly realising that nobody else can see it. I’m almost sad they didn’t just age her up for the sequel.

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Newcomer Sophia Lillis is the stand-out in this already tremendous cast.

The world building is the other great factor of this piece. While I’ve tried and failed on numerous occasions over the past several decades to get through the source material, I do admire it for what it does with its length. Nothing is more interesting than a small-town’s underbelly. To have one where everybody turns a blind eye without realising they are in hell is a really intriguing one, and it is brought perfectly to the screen. Some of the townsfolk are positively grotesque, possibly even more so than the actual creature lurking beneath them.

The insinuations of certain things is what I found the most disturbing out of everything we’re given in this movie. There’s a particular scene nobody really brings up. It’s the one in the flooded basement. To any normal viewer, you’d think that seeing the murdered Georgie in front of Bill would simply suggest that Pennywise the Clown has morphed into the armless wonder, in order to mess with his older, much more alive brother. But no.

Not at all.

My wordy.

My stars.

If you look closely, you might notice that Pennywise is literally using Georgie’s corpse as a puppet. Literally. He even throws him to the side! Now that is fucked up. It’s a great idea, and I’m glad they put it in there.

The sicko’s

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The sink clearly needs medical attention.


PROBLEMS:

For me, the pacing was just the tiniest bit off. Which is a small problem, but it’s there nonetheless. Aside from the first encounter with Georgie and the gutter, the second is a little bit too soon and as an audience you’re just meant to… roll with it, I guess? (I’m talking about Mike Hanlon’s scene in an alleyway… and then Ben’s library shelves visitor). You have to treat the audience almost as children, new to your story, who need explaining. So to show something this horrifically unexplainable so early on means it loses its punch. Burnt hands clasping at a door and then not being there any more does not fit in with the rest of the real-world story, therefore it is jarring. Also, as they do throughout so much of this film, the character seeing this anomaly sort of just shrugs and gets on with his day.

This leads me into what is at the very core of this movie — it’s already dated. Decades from now people will be able to tell, from a mile away, what year this was made in. Considering the fact it’s set in the eighties, this is troubling. The reason is, it fits in all the jump scares and overdone CGI that you’ve come to expect from horror movies of the late teens. I believe there’s a particularly cringeworthy jump scare where a cartoonish face with sharp teeth appears in front of poor Stanley. The face was clearly twisted in Photoshop. It’s terrible. Not scary at all. Story-wise, I get it — this is Pennywise messing with him — but Stanley seems fine the next time we see him, just as Mike was after the alley scene. It’s like… I’m sorry, did you not want this set in the real world? These massive shock-scare moments are essentially in the way of the next scene, which is why they are so casually tossed to the side.

The worst offender is after the HUGELY frightening slide-show scene, where the head of Pennywise bursts out of the screen and turns his head to look at Stanley. They scream and freak out, as would be the appropriate response, and because of those real and guttural reactions it’s the scariest moment in the film. But what happens next? Well, they run out of the garage and stand on the lawn to discuss things. In a calm and orderly fashion.

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The scariest scene in the movie, quickly ruined by the group’s amazing ability to get over it right away.

No, no, no, no, no. You would not do that. You would run. You would run as far as you can before you ran out of breath and collapsed against a tree and cried for half an hour. You would not stand three feet from where a giant alien clown came out of a wall and discuss the weather like that. This fault lies not only with the director, but the screenwriter. Surely a better way than that would have been for them to run out of the garage screaming and then jump-cut to them at somebody else’s house, huddled in a room shivering. Right? Anyway, that’s how I see it. It’s the 2017 horror movie cliché: dumbed down scenes for modern audiences who apparently get scared by people jittering unnaturally from one side of the room to the other, crick their necks quickly, and groan whilst covering their entire faces with long, jet-black hair… AKA: It’s beyond me what frightens normal folk. Somebody should make a movie about sock puppets. Now that is frightening.

Looking back on this giant mess of complaints I’ve made, maybe I should have whittled it down to “the screenplay was a little off”. Ah well. It’s more fun this way. Like I said, for a horror movie it wasn’t that scary. As mentioned earlier, the ideas and insinuations are the scariest parts, so I guess they got it right where it mattered.

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Did they seriously put this into the movie?

The second most jarring problem with this remake is the lack of real threat from Pennywise. I mean, besides from ripping a kid’s arm off and all that. Sure, he spurts blood and makes everybody hallucinate, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of actually attacking the Losers, he doesn’t do anything! In the ‘abandoned house scene’ (which I found almost embarrassingly cartoony), Pennywise messes with them so much in order to suck the fear out of them… but then, what else? He doesn’t kill them. And they’re kids, not superhero’s. He’s the one with the supernatural abilities, but he just stands there and doesn’t do anything to them. It makes it hard to understand what the point to it all is. If it’s fear he wants, couldn’t he have just scared Georgie instead of killing him? Maybe chomped on his arm a little, saved some for later, but let him live to tell the tale? Maybe he’d get ghost-limb fear indigestion.

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“Augustus! Save some arm for later!”

I can hear you screaming at me: It’s not meant to make sense, it’s a horror movie! Well, that’s true, but it is aiming to be realistic. For juxtaposition. Like the old-timey photographs in the library scene. This did my head in. Yes, okay, people were scary back then, and old photos are even scarier. But to cut to a blurry head in a tree, chilling on its own, to a high definition one… it takes you out of the film, as it’s obviously an effect.

One of the best examples I can think of where they flawlessly handled old-time photographs is in The Others.

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Maybe they’re born with it. Maybe they’re DEAD.

RANDOM LAST THOUGHT:

The audience I saw this with certainly loved the movie’s lamest scares, so who am I to judge? I’m really not that disturbed by horror movies in general, so perhaps these people aren’t the dumb, weak little sissy-babies I view them as. Maybe I’m the problem.

And that’s a horror story as thick as House of Leaves which will never be opened.


FUN FACT:

A lot of the witty banter you hear in the film is ad-lib. I smell future SNL cast, and I’m not talking about Chapter Two.

COLONEL’S KERNELS:

I give this film three and a half pops out of five kernels. Bring on the sequel.

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POST-SCRIPT:

I did really enjoy this film. There are many good twists, and it’s a heavily character-driven study of what fear does to our psyches.

The tagline of “everybody floats” is brilliantly misleading. And who is Pennywise? What’s his deal? Other than being a gross squid-like alien with sharp teeth and pink tentacles, I mean. By the way, I swear that same creature pops up in about every other King adaptation. It’s like he can’t come up with an ending, so he just goes: “An octopus with teeth did it”.

Anywho.