- Let’s see. Put it this way:
You know how, in the movie The Shining, Jack Nicholson’s character doesn’t look as if he’s playing with a full deck even in the opening interview scene?
Remember the eyebrows arched like crazy and that feral-looking grin? Like a guy trying his damnedest to look at least half-sane and not doing a very good job of it?
In the novel you have this build-up where you see the flakes falling off Jack Torrance one at a time. In the movie there is never a doubt in your mind that this fella is going to be running about with spittle flying out of him as he chases his family around with an axe.
Well, It is like that. It starts at about ten on the scale before ramping it up to a Spinal Tap eleven. Two exhausting and head-wrecking hours later, when you mercifully reach the climax, there’s nowhere left for it to go to except to fifteen. I mean, it’s not even on the scale anymore.
And in fairness, if the crowd I saw it with tonight is anything to judge by, It is a complete success because of the sheer relentlessness of the whole thing. Each to their own.
Me, I want to be wooed just a little bit before getting slammed up against the wall and banged senseless. Just call me an old-fashioned romantic.
I have the 1986 Stephen King paperback in front of me here, a brick of a thing that doubles as the world’s heaviest paperweight, checking in at close on 1400 pages and nearly every one a delight. I mean, this is a great book; and the reason it is so great is that in between the eerie set-pieces you really get the chance to know and love the main characters.
With the movie, that is –and in fairness, it’s by necessity – kept to a minimum whilst we get jump-cut scare after jump-cut scare, accompanied by a screaming soundtrack bludgeoning us until we just give up.
We’re in King’s fictional township of Derry, part of his haunted Maine landscape, and this is an entire town that is haunted. Children go missing on a regular basis and the place has a history that is steeped in blood and weirdness. Leaving aside the central evil entity that shows up mainly in the shape of a sinister clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), the whole town seems to be populated by a cast that ranges from simply creepy (like the local oddball of a pharmacist) to the child-molesting father of one of the kids who have cottoned on that there is really something seriously wrong with this place.
Balance? Wave goodbye to that. Balance went out the window about ten minutes in.
The gang of seven children who attempt to track down the source of the many Derry disappearances are all outsiders of one kind or another, identifying themselves as ‘The Losers Club’; and they are what make this film worth watching.
All these young actors are good but for reasons of space I’ll just single a couple out:
Jeremy Ray Taylor plays Ben, an overweight, bookish and likeable young man. So of course he is bullied both verbally (he is referred to as ‘Tits’) and physically by the usual half-wits. He’s the new kid on the block and the one who is delving into the town’s macabre history. For various reasons, it must have been a difficult part to play, but Taylor is excellent.
Really standing out, however, is Sophia Lillis as Beverly, the only female among the Losers. She’s one of those poor kids who has had her reputation cruelly and unfairly dragged through the muck, with the word ‘slut’ being routinely thrown at her. As a result – not to mention having to put up with her appalling creep of a father — she has developed this tough exterior that hides the sweet and lovely girl she is. I don’t know what else Sophia Lillis has done, but for me It marks the debut of a major future star.
Children like Ben and Beverly exist in most schools and I would love to explain to them that the morons – the so-called ‘cool’ crowd who make their lives a misery — will only be in their faces for a very short period. It breaks my heart to see children treat other children in this way and It captures that whole bullshit merry-go-round perfectly.
Director Andres Muschietti and scriptwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman do the only sensible thing and in this first chapter concentrate on the events concerning the main characters as children. We’ll see how they fare as adults in the next movie. They also update the events of the novel from the late 50s to the late 80s and this works surprisingly well.
By the end we know that the evil that stalks the town erupts every 27 years, which means that the Losers will be tackling Pennywise again…well, about now.
All involved have done a good job in trying to bring a very difficult-to-adapt novel to the big screen; and I truly wish I had been more into it. Perhaps I’m just too close to the book, which I consider one of King’s finest – and that of course makes it my fault, not the filmmakers.
I wish them well and hope that It makes enough money to justify that second chapter.