It : Movie Review
2 stars out of 5 (Average)
English , 2017
Director : Andy Muschietti
'It' is not bad, in fact It is so relentlessly mediocre as a psychological horror movie that at one point I felt like leaving the theatre, but It, to its credit, never became so awful that one is actually forced to get up and walk out. It also generates some penetrating insights - the story's hellish villain comes to life every three decades to haunt and destroy kids and adults, and doing some rough math about when the script was first written, It is no wonder that we now have Donald Trump terrorizing American towns (his speech to Boy Scouts in West Virginia in July 2017 permanently scarred many young, tender lives).
It appears however the audiences of our world seem to have taken a frightful liking towards it, which explains why this flick budgeted at $35 million has now generated $480 million and counting. It's based on the king of horror Stephen King's highly successful 1986 novel about kids in a small-town American milieu being terrorized by a demonic clown who hides out in the sewers and launches barbaric attacks against his targets.
It struck me there was no point in writing about a mostly useless film like this, but then I realized that some kids might actually benefit from the 'face-your-fear' ethos that slowly tears through this movie (with an 'R' rated film like, only naughty kids will manage to see it) ; there's also the contention that analyzing why the film failed may enlighten those attempting similar future films. It should however be pointed out that many have called it amongst the best adaptations of Kings' novels - one can only surmise that that insane clown popped up in their subconscious and terrorized them into making that assertion. King's novels' successful filmic transfers include 'Shining' (1980) resurrected by Stanley Kubrick's formidable directorial vision, 'Shawshank Redemption' (1994) made by Frank Darabont into a bruising ennobling dream of a film, and even lesser known works like 'Misery' (1990) wherein Rob Reiner maintains consistently tension-wracked story-telling. 'It' sadly features none of the above qualities, nor any other riveting ones.
It opens with a rain lashed afternoon in which a little boy floats his paper boat on water-swamped suburban roads. It is not a sequence of any great shakes as chilling thrillers go, but it is the best part of this entire horror film, which unfortunately isn't saying much. It then so happens that we meet a bunch of kids, who're all in that awesome evanescent age just before adolescence, whose plan for summer-vacation frolicking is upended by grotesque visions each one has, with one thing in common - they all see 'It' (that Satanic Clown). It slowly becomes clear that every kid ends up visualizing his or her personal version of that blaringly horrifying entity that so many of us feared ourselves in childhood. And 'It' , named 'Pennywise The Dancing Clown' , then supplants all of those individual mental stigmata to become the dominant villain, and erupts to devour the children, especially the scared ones.
'It's failures are simple - the horror is too straightforwad and lacks the the kind of fiendish psychological miasma and atmosphere that distinguishes the best in the genre ('Manichitrathazhu', 'Exorcist' , the original 'Omen'). It is not adequately acknowledged that horror is the toughest of all genres to execute - in real life, only a few souls claim to inhabit a supernatural world and the film-maker is then tasked with not only resurrecting this nebulous primordial world but also causing intense fear in adults many of whom have already excorcized most of their demons in childhood ('It' moreover is 'R' rated, so its theatre version is aimed mostly at adults). It is a sad reflection on director Andy Muschietti's gameplan for this horror story that he stumbles on two crucial counts - in ensuring a truly terrifying antagonist, and in building a unquestionably haunting world of emotions that is so central to the success of a seemingly mechanistic genre.
It has to be admitted that The Clown is not exactly benign, but after the opening sequence in which he displays some unnerving behavioural shiftiness, he then remains only a two-dimensional villain, a brutally nasty circus clown, yes, but a spine-chilling blood-curdling entity, no. It is once shown that he, with a perverse grin, plays with a severed forearm while teasing one of his far-away onlookers, but aside from such nominally unsettling visuals, there is little else in his behaviour that makes you stay awake with naked terror. It is also wryly noted that in his face and expressions per se, he lacks that outright bladder-loosening frightful force that the best horror designers manage to create (Linda Blair in 'Exorcist', Shobhana in 'Manichitrathazhu').
Iterations of horror aside, successfully eerie films also create undercurrents of difficult insidious emotions that often redeem such works even though their horror quotient per se might not capsize the boat. In 'It', we see a girl who has an abusive father, a boy who has an overprotective mother, an obese kid who is severely bullied by a gang... It eventually behoves all of them to rise against these inclemencies, even as they summon the courage to put their foot down against the supernatural scourge that plagues them. It's alas the case that none of these sub-plots amount to anything more than run-of-the-mill tracks because that extra effort of story-weaving nuance and imagination is missing. It may be that you'll hear some whispers of haunting regret in an older brother's longing to see his younger sibling who went missing a year ago, but you don't really share the ache, because that much-needed arc of development is missing.
So it has become obvious to you now, dear reader, that this film barely created any horror in my heart. But it may not be known to you that after sucessfully turning vegetarian for the latter half of last year, I relapsed into meat-eating and after watching this movie it again came to my sad attention that my dinner of chicken was a return to the same old habit of savouring the carcasses of slaughtered animals that is so savage and unforgivable and yet a shockingly perverse habit which I cannot shake off. It turns out not uncommonly, that it is real life which is the font of more horror than fiction can ever dream of.
Challenge : Make every sentence in the review begin with 'It'.
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