I think we’ve been dragged through this drain before…
Stephen King is back, folks, for better or worse. While it might be worth mentioning that the likelihood he went anywhere to begin with is unlikely, still, 2017 has belonged solely to him. What with 3 featured films and 2 TV programs being adapted by his material (as well as surely a book or two), it seems people can’t get enough of the old sport. If you’re like me, however, a fan from a distance. A fan who is loyal only from the Film and TV department (and who’s never seen the original IT), it (*cliché chuckle*) can be difficult trying to jump right into his fans’ most beloved of tales. So, what exactly is an outsider like me to do with a daunting tale of a killer clown and an old-fashioned tale of adolescent teamwork and nostalgia? Enjoy it, reluctantly and psychedelically, perhaps.
As is most likely the case, this well-known and terrifying tale is one that needs nearly no introduction. My mere task at hand then is simple: is this fantastical, energetic, and hard R rated Horror flick worthy of your consideration? That, dear friends, is tricky. Let us approach simply the question, what does it do right? Consider what many who I’ve talked to, as well as even what the weariest of critics have pointed out; it’s fun and even inspiring picture of old school friendships. It perfectly paints the feeling and bewilderment that 80’s-90’s classic friendships used to possess (the E.T’s, Goonies, and Sandlot’s of the world). Admittedly, this sense of wonder and fun has been captured by the likes of Stranger Things as of late (which likewise stars Finn Wolfhard), and arguably does a better job, at that. Still, it is the likes of King’s inspiration that we have such nostalgic friendships to thank, so credit is hereby due. Altogether, the film builds up these friendships and alliances in absolutely superb ways. It makes their time as children (as well as their adolescent fears) the focal point. Which is wise. There is a definite “us vs. the world” mentality that is sensed throughout, and it results in perfect atmosphere and character development.
This leads me to an undeniable fact; this film is perhaps perfectly directed. While it could be argued the many characters and focus on the fears of the children rather than most backstories can become convoluted. Still, there is no denying the impending mood, the pristine score, eerie setting, and perfect acting projected throughout is in heavy thanks to a massively talented director (the young Andy Muschietti) and team. Seriously, from a production standpoint, it is creepily brilliant! I’m not typically keen on the full-fledged haunted house and jump-scare settings, but there is no denying what a creepy atmosphere it makes for. Lastly, a word for Pennywise. He is simply terrifying, and that’s coming from a guy who never registers as a coulrophobic. His character, menace, and especially Bill Skarsgård’s performance result in a truly frightening and perhaps monumental villain.
Still, there are things that float, things that bump in the wrong places, and in short, problems that lurk. Let’s keep the trail of Pennywise going a bit. While everything I stated in regards to his presence in a positive manner is true, I couldn’t help but feel slightly gypped with his character as well. While this comes from an entirely ignorant standpoint as far the book-to-film is considered, still, I wanted more of the introductory Pennywise. He was evil, transfixing, and something you hated to be unable to keep your eyes off. In my opinion, Skarsgård was on to road to awards recognition, had that carried throughout the film. And while Pennywise the character maintained a fantastic and looming presence, as well as horror set-piece throughout, I couldn’t help but feel like an all time best horror character and performance was denied us.
Still, those are entirely small things to nitpick at in comparison to the larger blunders of the film; the harsh content. While this film has facades of classic whimsy and naivety that likely appeals to a younger demographic, still, understand what this film is doing. This film appears to be encompassing those old nostalgic settings of innocence and fun, and bringing it full circle for audience members who grew up with them. The only issue is this, the audience members are all grown up. And the film deals with and extends said whimsy’s in a more mature and dark manner (for better or worse). What is projected then is shocking and more graphic violence, at least 30 F bombs (said often by children, no less), vulgar humor, an incestuous and pedophilic relationship alluded to – all wrapped up in a child-eating clown, to boot. Looking at the children’s problems likewise is no picnic. While fear, villains, bullying, or abuse may have been themes throughout old school cinema, they have been multiplied here. What with the death of beloved siblings and parents, family abuse, bullying to the point of torture and death, and racial tension all being themes, it’s clear to see we aren’t just observing romanticized visions of childhood difficulties. No, I think many ought to glimpse briefly and be capable of noting that this is not meant for kids (or perhaps adults, for that matter). Still though, there is something slightly misleading in its childlike wonder meets gruesome darkness that still comes across as startling.
While those facts in and of themselves may be the “no crossing line” for you, I wish to summarize with yet another problem and perhaps benefit I had with the film; it’s shallowness. While we at Cross Culture have great things to say regarding meaningful and spiritually deep horror films, this one could be easily summarized as a typical good vs. evil predicament. And yet, maybe the 80’s Déjà vuing in play here in regard to the standard “diverse/unlikely friendships and teamwork” isn’t such a bad message after all. Because it might be easy to ask in the film, where are the parents? Where are the adults to keep a watchful eye? Why are the troubled and deeply inadequate adolescence left to their own devices of survival? If I may be so bold, might I inject my own personal interpretation of the film? In the end, perhaps that helpless and suffocating sensation is exactly the point being made for our modern viewers who have met that age of adulthood (as I’m sure Chapter II will elaborate one). It is perhaps part of its charm, message, and maybe (if we dare) even part of its spiritual relevance. It is a call back to what we were and what we ought to remember. That no matter how difficult the circumstance or foe, the message ought to be the same for us in our adult lives and circumstances, stick together. It’s a simple message, really, but a needed one at that. As our circumstances grow and become direr each year, search with all your might for that lifelong lesson.
Shallow? Familiar? Simple? Perhaps, but it’s backed up by scripture (John 13:34, Hebrews 10:23-25, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12), so how bad could it be? Regrettably, there is a plethora of harsh content and evil spirits to maneuver through in order to find said inspiration. Still, if horror is your game, and 80’s throw-back meets your fancy, this dark (and admittedly fun) drain may be worth a plunge or two.
7/10 (recommended with a filtering device)