welcome back to thoughts and first impressions. this is a special one. sort of. As a reminder, this is a segment on this space where I talk about film, television, books, or music in a way that’s either supremely subjective or an feeble attempt at intellectual objectivity. Warning: spoiler heavy and not as substantial as I’d like it to be. Let’s get into it. Pun intended.
Image credit to New Line Cinema.
Dir. Andrés Muschietti
With Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgard, Sophia Lilis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Grazer
The Peckhamplex is perhaps one of my favourite cinemas throughout the whole city. As South London has so kindly adopted me, I was never short of little sanctuaries. Sure, it can be kind of creepy after walking out of a two-hour horror film, but sitting in Screen 1 reminds me of that Gracie Films title card you see before an episode of The Simpsons. It’s always a good time.
I had gone to the Peckhamplex for my birthday. To celebrate 19 years on this Earth, I decided to “man-up” and “face” my ongoing phobia of clowns. I’m a big horror movie junkie; any horror film in the last 12 years, I have probably seen, enjoyed, or laughed at obnoxiously. It, however, despite the starring demon being my personal Antichrist, was very special to me growing up.
Stephen King and his work definitely shaped me growing up both as a writer and as a person. He taught me not to be afraid of the things I don’t know, and to be careful of empty hotels. I remember the first time I saw the 1990 It miniseries very vividly: I had seen it in my high school’s library with three of my friends in broad daylight. To this day, Tim Curry’s Pennywise had not only scarred me for the rest of my formative adolescent life, but inspired me to pick up the 1,138-page monster of a novel. I even wrote my Extended Essay on it, but that’s a story for another time.
There are scenes in the book, to name a few, that are troubling to say the least. Troubling is an umbrella term at this point, because the scale of fucked up things that happen in the book range from a strong 5 to over 9000. For example, passages depicting a grizzly murder of a gay couple, a graphic, fear-driven suicide, and the infamous child orgy scene I skipped because I really, really didn’t want to read it. I still haven’t read that part, I WikiPedia-d it for my essay.
I was aware that it’s taken a while for this film to get made. Or re-made. However you want to see it. New Line Cinema initially had Cary Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation) attached to direct the film, Fukunaga is even credited in this current incarnation as a co-writer. After the fallout between director and studio, the actor they had attached to originally play Pennywise, Chiswick’s Favourite Son, Will Poulter, also pulled out of the project due to scheduling conflicts. I had put the thought of this film on the back burner until promo season reared its clown-ugly head.
It, or as it is lovingly known on social media, #IttheMovie (red balloon emoji), is a 2-hour and 15 minute horror/thriller from the mind of author, Stephen King. Based on the 1985 novel of the same name, It follows the town of Derry and an elusive, bloodthirsty being that preys on the fear of the townsfolk. This being often disguises itself in the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard). After the murder of his kid brother George, Bill Denborough (Jaeden Lieberher), and his group of friends, The Losers Club, go to great lengths to face their fears, strengthen their bonds, and destroy It.
The film is set in the late 1980s, unlike the novel and miniseries where the first half is set in the 60s. The 80s references and details were subtle and complete, enough to catch your eye, but not enough to throw you off. The overall look of the film was very simple, colours saturated, aesthetically pleasing but not distracting, somehow blends summer coming of age film with dark, gritty horror thriller. Derry was the perfect all-American small town, that happened to have a deep, disturbing secret literally crawling underneath it. There were a lot of big budget crane and drone shots that bothered me, though. But that’s just a matter of preference.
Special effects were seamless, Pennywise’s make-up and wardrobe was, as they say, on point. I loved the wardrobe. He had the Victorian clown look; I like that despite the passing of time and how long Pennywise has terrorized this town, he managed to stay true to his original form and didn’t evolve into some 80s memorabilia. There was a whole lot of blood done so well; the scene with Beverly in my bathroom was in impressive combination of SFX and practical effects. Shoutout that art department team for covering the whole set in blood.
There was this one camera trick I couldn’t stop thinking about. It was when Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff) goes into his dad’s office after an unsatisfactory Torah reading. He straightens out the painting of the woman he’s afraid of and the camera starts out tilted and straightens itself as Oleff straightens the painting.
One sequence with Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) in the library where he was led down into the basement by our favourite clown, there was this incredible build up in the sound design that led my heart thumping along with the chase scene through the shelves, only to have that ripped from under me with silence, and then bam. Here’s Johnny. I looked for the clip on YouTube and found out it was 30 seconds long. 30 seconds to build so much suspense and reveal so much about two characters. That’s some kind of feat.
The screenplay and Muschetti’s vision managed to balance out the horror with a little humour here and there. There’s still that Goonies meets suspense thriller vibe that the filmmakers kept alive. You had potty mouth Richie (Finn Wolfhard) and placebo-effect victim Eddie (Jack Grazer) as both comedic relief and spouts of fear-inducing sequences. There were moments where the juvenile humour went from adorable to repetitive, but again, it’s probably just a result of my preference.
Speaking of the kids, this whole film, Chapter One as we later discovered, had these kids front and center and shining so, so bright. Chosen Jacobs had this maturity to him that made me want to see more of Mike. Jeremy Ray Taylor was an absolute sweetheart and played one of the bravest Losers ever. January embers forever, babes. If Ben Hanscom was a millennial, he’d be deep within the depths of Buzzfeed Unsolved and One Direction stan twitter. Little Georgie was brilliant, I can’t believe I managed to both be terrified of this kid and want to pinch his cheeks. Sophia Lillis ,who played Beverly Marsh, was the standout performance for me. Sophia Lillis is my new favourite actress. She reminds me of Elizabeth Olsen and Molly Ringwald (as she was compared to in the film). Beverly Marsh will take no shit. She is that bitch. Bev has faced bullying, slutshaming, and sexual abuse and can still show these boys up jumping off a cliff. While Beverly was catatonic in Pennywise’s lair, she saw a vision where the Losers return as adults to Derry to defeat It once more. Sequel, anyone? (Of course, there’s going to be a sequel. Money makes the world go ‘round after all.)
Let’s not forget about the clown of the hour, Pennywise. Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise was a refreshing take on the character. I didn’t even picture him like this when I read the book, which was a nice surprise. Tim Curry’s Pennywise was also brilliant, yet there was something about his version that made it feel like It was still a tiny bit human underneath the clown disguise. I think Skarsgard understood the character a lot better and understood how important it was to have a character that can stand alone amongst the Jokers and Twisty the Clowns of the world. This version of Pennywise really struck me has he was definitely not human. It was definitely a demonic entity disguising itself as a clown, and it was a clown that felt like it stemmed from the collective fears of these kids; there were points where Pennywise was childlike and genuinely entertaining.
There were many instances wherein I stifled laughter; clowns are supposed to make you laugh, right? Skarsgard created a version of this character that enjoyed being a clown; it enjoyed taking this shape and enjoyed the thrill of chasing his victims. It found it funny. I’ve used the word It so much that I’m beginning to question if I’m making any sense. There was a quality that Skarsgard brought that managed to juggle comic whimsy with spine-chilling creepiness that hasn’t left my mind for weeks now. I was scared, I had my hand over my face but somehow I still had fun. There’s a scene that’s become a pretty viral meme where it’s Pennywise dancing in front of Beverly but to different songs. I like that the clown’s entertainer aspect was really explored, everything about this dude wherever he appeared was a show. Balloons, acrobatics, unfolding out of a fridge; you name it. It’ll do it.
Much like the Pennywise Dancing to Songs meme, the film itself gained quite the online following. I found it a little strange and quite interesting that stan culture has adopted this horror blockbuster. I’m more of a Get Out stan myself, but let these kids like what they like. There are fan accounts dedicated to pairings and ships I didn’t even know existed, compilation videos on YouTube of It Cast Funny Moments, and Spotify playlists the cast made dedicated to their characters. The internet has definitely revolutionized the way we consume our media; there’s an entire second-screen experience culture that’s created when groups of people come together to celebrate what they’re passionate about. However, what was really weird is that it got to a point where I couldn’t tell whether there were people trolling or legitimately wanted to have sex with the clown. Nah, bro. That’s like the plot to an AHS episode no one asked for.
Also, don’t sexualise these kids. I’m a bit annoyed that these are things that need to be reminded into today’s society. Please, really, it’s not that hard. There are women in their late 20s saying insanely inappropriate things about these characters and their actors. Stop, please and thank you.
Halloween is fast approaching, or for some of us, began on September 1st. I can’t wait to see what the rest of Horror Movie Season 2017 has in store in the few months we have left in the year. It is still and has been in cinemas across the UK since September 8.
Reflecting on Writing this Piece:
Could do with a lot more in-depth criticism. Next time, try to brain dump right after you see the movie, instead of sitting on it for two weeks. We’re trying to go for quality and speed here, people. Will do better next time. –A