Rating: 2 Stars
This had come in with so much positive buzz that I had a lot of high hopes for it. Unfortunately, I left the theater disappointed. It was OK, but it certainly did not meet expectations.
Most of my issues with the film surround trying to distill a very dense, plot thick novel into a movie. It looks like it’s going to be at least two movies. Even so, this film involved the initial appearance of Pennywise in the children’s lives, which is still a pretty big story in of itself to tell.
The main challenge is that there are too many characters that each had some kind of plot arc. Stephen King is the master of weaving characters in and out of a complex plot. However, King has a thousand pages to accomplish this. A movie has about 135 minutes.
Under that constraint, you have to cut characters. Here, the filmmakers don’t. There are seven (count them, seven) child actors that are all in mortal danger. Not only that, but they all have personalities that need to be developed. One is an overweight budding architect. Another is a gifted mimic. Yet another is a hypochondriac. And so on. In the limited time frame, there just isn’t enough time to define and then create space for each character to develop.
I’m in the midst of reading It when I went to the film, so I know the characters. Even with that background, there were moments where I was confused. Wait, is that the kid who can’t stop talking or is he the hypochondriac?
I would have much preferred for characters to be excised from the plot than to have these one dimensional characters with carefully parceled out lines and scenes. Everybody had to have their special moment or two, which left the overarching plot a bit of a mess.
My second issue with it might come from the fact that maybe I’ve become somewhat inured to horror. Yes, the special effects were amazing and the transformation of Pennywise from creepy clown to flesh-eating hellion was impressive, but there were actually relatively few moments in the film where I actually jumped.
It might actually be an age thing as well. Perhaps I just can’t relate any more to the child in danger motif. I’ve long sense lost the innocence of youth. The perils of walking down the street and being tormented by bullies perhaps just doesn’t resonate with me anymore. If so, I’m assuming that the next chapter, if this chapter is successful, will take place the usual 27 years later, at which point the children would then be adults. Perhaps this type of horror will resonate more with me?
In the book, the setting for the children’s horror is 1958. From a pure American folklore point of view, 1958 is probably the better setting for the children’s section. Derry is presented as this typical small town with a dark shadow hanging over it. Setting it in 1958 makes this dichotomy even more apparent. The myth of the 1950’s is that of a time of bucolic innocence (well, if you’re white, anyways). Moving it into the 1980’s, while maybe will make the next chapter (ie 27 years later) a little easier to film and more relevant to our current time, caused the larger issue of lost innocence to be lost.
Finally, I wasn’t that impressed with the CGI. If anything, it was just a little too CGI-y as Pennywise seamlessly transformed into impossible shapes. Sure, from a technical point of view it was impressive, but again, maybe this is me, but horror is more effective when it’s simpler. Just last month or so I re-watched the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was I’m sure literally made for less than this film spent on catering. Re-watching the shock and horror of that film and seeing how effective that was makes this one seem tamer, even though it clearly had way better pedigree / production values.
So, not a horrible movie, but clearly a disappointment.