This new adaptation of Stephen King’s novel came out a few weeks ago. I was initially unfussed by the prospect of Hollywood regurgitating more old material, but couldn’t avoid taking note as the film quickly became a phenomenal box office smash. In the USA, it didn’t just beat the previous opening weekend record for any horror film in history… it surpassed the old record again a week later! Shortly after that, It officially became the most commercially successful horror film ever made.
It was at this point that I realised I’d have to get a train to town and see what the fuss was about.
With no foreknowledge of the novel or 1990 miniseries, I was surprised by how much It rests fundamentally on the drama surrounding its young teen characters. It’s an amusing, awkward and sensitively drawn group that was fun just to listen to and follow around. What’s more, this group represents an all too rare example of a film exploring the specific issues of young teenagers, rather than skipping straight from small children to high school seniors. If anything, a few more scenes of just getting to know them wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Of course, the killer clown and accompanying nastiness demand attention once they show up. However, It never abandons the core focus on these kids’ issues, a wise decision that helps to curb a sense of the characters just serving the scary spectacle. On the contrary, it’s the clown whose varying appearances shed light on the young characters’ individual anxieties. Since the teens’ fear is key to the story, these moments are successful in provoking the required shock and discomfort to get us involved in their plight. And whilst the scares aren’t perhaps earth-shattering, it is pretty surprising to see such a no-holds-barred approach to terrorising these youngsters!
On a first viewing, some tactics deployed to create these scares did get slightly repetitive over time, plus there was a bit of awkward pacing that may be traceable to the original novel. That said, such roughness around the edges contributed to the strong feeling that this was a real film: not one crammed into a rigid formula, but a film that told its own story with room to breathe. Containing tonal shifts, some taboo-broaching moments, and a final scene that elegantly mixes the moving with the gross, I loved the sense throughout that these filmmakers were honouring their material and not toning down stuff for our sake.
So, It is a horror film that makes its desired impact on both the scary and dramatic fronts. By holding to the novel’s convictions, these filmmakers have landed themselves a monster hit. Better still, this film only covered the first half of the story: roll on chapter 2!