WARNING!!! THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE 2017 ADAPTATION OF STEPHEN KING’S IT.
Today, I took advantage of an Alamo Drafthouse $6 ticket price special for shows before 2 p.m. and I chose IT. Well, the chicken strips were good, anyway.
Everyone knows I’m a huge Stephen King fan, and I had high hopes for this film. I really did. Special effects have grown leaps and bounds thanks to CGI since the first TV adaptation. And they really nailed the look of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). That made me think it might be worth seeing.
Alas, it was not to be. Instead, I got an overblown, shallow version with myriad jump-scares that didn’t even make me jump. Not once. In short, it was shit.
Stephen King’s novel is a behemoth at 1,138 pages. There is no way you could do it all in one film, and this is the first of two. The filmmakers wisely chose to put the kids in the first film and save the grownups for Chapter Two.
The children’s section of the book is set in the 1950s. Characters have 1950s names – Richie, Beverly, Bill, Stan, and Betty. Obviously when these kids grow up, they’re adults in the 1980s.
The kids’ period has been updated to the 1980s. Kids then had names like Matt, Jennifer, Shelley, Daniel, Becky, and Kenny. Of course, millennials wouldn’t know that, but anyone old enough to have read the book when it came out absolutely will notice. Though not a huge problem, it lends a jarring note to the film’s atmosphere.
I blew that off and kept watching. Didn’t take long before I started to squirm in my seat. It physically hurt to watch them gut the story. I recognized moments from the book as they began, and then they shot off track into unknown and ridiculous territory.
The deviations robbed many of the story’s most powerful moments of their punch and skimmed the surface of the characters. Sloppy writing and contrived dialogue (there is TONS of great dialogue in the book; they should have used it) only made it worse.
In the novel, each kid has a separate encounter with It before they are drawn into the Losers Club. These scenes establish not only the kids’ characters but the monster’s (it’s a shape-shifter, and clever). Only Beverly, Bill, Stan, and Eddie get to do this. We lose Mike’s giant bird, and Richie’s narrow escape from the big plastic Paul Bunyan statue. Paul appeared in the background of a scene and I got super excited when I saw him; then he vanished for the rest of the film.
The dead boys at the Derry Standpipe who chase a horrified Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff) become instead a misshapen painting in his rabbi father’s office. It’s inspired by something that scared the film’s director; it had nothing to do with the book, mind you. Like most of the film, actually.
Other choice missteps:
- Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) is still a farm kid, but now an orphan. They barely spend any time on him before he joins the Losers Club. The adult story hinges on Mike, and they should have plumbed his character more here.
- George Denbrough dies in the same way at the beginning of the film–Pennywise tears his arm off. Pretty awful, right? A kid getting his wing ripped completely off! He screams, he bleeds–and then the clown yanks him down into the storm drain and eats him. Not only is this anti-climactic (yes, really), now big brother Bill’s (Jaeden Lieberher) motivation changes from white-hot revenge to the anemic “Georgie isn’t dead; he’s only missing. We have to find him.”
- Ben Hanscomb (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is still fat, but he looks a good two years younger than he should. Ben was supposed to be a BIG fat kid, not a teeny fat kid. His tormentor, bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) also looks far too young and isn’t really all that menacing, though Hamilton does his best. Taylor’s performance is good, but he gets eclipsed by Richie.
- Patrick Hockstetter (Owen Teague), a shudderingly creepy character in the book, was barely in the film and should have been left out entirely if they weren’t going to do anything with him.
- Not far in, I found myself asking, “Where the hell is little asthmatic Eddie Kaspbrak’s (Jack Dylan Grazer) aspirator?” A huge character tag for this hypochondriac kid, it pops up halfway through as though the writers forgot about it. We also get no sense of the power his fearful mother Sonia (Molly Atkinson) holds over him; it’s merely hinted at, and Atkinson’s part is also wasted.
- The abandoned house on Neibolt Street made it into the film, but they bloated it into a giant burned-out haunted looking monstrosity, instead of the ordinary facade it was in the book. No werewolf because no 1950s; just Eddie’s leper, who starts out cool but devolves into another overdone effect.
- A well in the house also becomes the portal to It’s lair, instead of the sewers in the Barrens. The Barrens themselves are merely backdrop here; they’re mentioned often and then discarded.
The most egregious fail involves Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis). She’s the only girl in the Losers Club. Book Beverly is tough and yet vulnerable, with a father who beats her, a pattern she repeats as an adult by marrying an abusive man.
To my disgust, the film utterly sexualized Beverly. This is what Hollywood does to girls. It starts by bumping up the book’s popular kids’ rumors that Beverly is a slut and will sleep with anyone.
It permeates the relationship between and her father; instead of hitting her, he sniffs her hair lasciviously after she comes back from the drugstore with a box of tampons (not in the novel). Nobody outright says he’s molesting her, but you get the sense that he wants to. This was only hinted at in the book–King focused on the beating because Bev’s husband Tom Rogan is also a violent man.
The film subverts Beverly’s role as an actual member of the group in a scene where all the boys stare mesmerized at her body as she sunbathes, thus establishing her merely as a sex object. Although Ben has a mad crush on her, in the book they don’t really think of her as a “girl” per se. She swiftly becomes one of them. This moment ruined that burgeoning dynamic entirely.
The rumors surface again when Bev’s father literally tries to rape her (“I’ve been hearing things about you, Bevvie.”).
Worst of all, at the climax of the film, Beverly is objectified again when Pennywise kidnaps her and plunges her into a catatonic state with its deadlights, so this otherwise resourceful girl cannot save herself (also ruining the deadlights for Chapter Two). The boys have to save her.
Let me reiterate. THE BOYS HAVE TO SAVE HER. It’s the power of the penis! And how do they do that?
WITH A KISS. Yes, when Ben kisses her, Beverly comes out of her catatonic state. True love (not friendship, mind you!) wins the day!
At this point, I badly wanted to get out of the theater. I didn’t even wait for the credits to roll, something that as a soundtrack nerd, I usually anticipate. Nope, up and out as if Pennywise himself were after me.
A very few things were okay.
- Finn Wolfhard, whom I love as Mike Wheeler in Netflix’s Stranger Things, plays Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier. Despite the film’s lack of character development, Richie has a very strong personality and Wolfhard does a great job with it. He’s the character I felt was closest to the book version.
- Instead of being a whiz at building things (adult Ben is a famous architect), kid Ben gets to be a history nerd. It provided an easy way to shoehorn the history of Derry and the ubiquitous presence of the clown into the story. And they left his anonymous love haiku to Beverly, a sweet moment in the book, intact.
- The Apocalyptic Rock Fight survived, though short and clumsy in execution.
The jump scares are run-of-the-mill standard horror fare. I’ve seen so many scary movies that directors have to try much harder if they want to actually frighten me. The film was infested with them–they took up time that could have been used for character development. Instead of slowly building tension with each child’s It encounters, the film tried to cram it down the viewer’s throat–Here! This is gross! Fear it! FEAR IT!
IT said “Boo!” over and over but failed to get me on every level. I do not recommend this film. I don’t know if I’ll even bother to see Chapter Two. If I do, I’ll most likely rent it from Redbox for a couple of bucks. But I won’t waste my popcorn money on it, or throw an Alamo experience down the drain again.
Just read the damn book.