I watched the It remake last night and, boy, am I ambivalent about it.
I know a lot of people my age love the miniseries. It is a beloved book although, to be honest, it’s not my favorite Stephen King book. My criticisms of the book and miniseries are pretty much the same–they’re both too long and the parts with the adults are boring. That being said, I’ll take either the book or the miniseries any day of the week over the remake. I truly, madly, deeply don’t understand the adulation that’s been poured on this movie by the horror community. I have a copy of Rue Morgue magazine next to me right now and they voted It as the best feature of 2017. Was it just the hype machine? I don’t think I’ve ever been so ambivalent about a movie.
The plot is similar to the miniseries and the book. The events have been moved to 1988 and 1989 from the 1950s. Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) is killed by Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård), the assumed form of a Lovecraftian entity that feeds off the town of Derry every twenty-seven years. Georgie’s brother, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) tries to fight what killed Georgie and other children in the town with the help of his gang of friends.
I liked the mood of the movie and some of the scenes were striking. I particularly liked the scene where the t.v. show tells the bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) to kill everyone. Actually, I found that all the bullies were genuinely menacing. That being said, many scenes were very derivative of better horror movies. The fight scenes with Pennywise felt like alternate takes from fights with Freddy Krueger from the first Nightmare on Elm Street. The scene where Bev (Sophia Lillis) pulls out the measuring tape full of blood and hair out of the drain felt like something taken from Ringu.
I genuinely liked the music. I especially liked what was playing in the scene when they were first exploring the creepy abandoned house. The movie veers from orchestral to eighties synth licks to a few songs from the eighties in a way that works well. I wish I could say the same for the CGI. Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise is iconic. He’s scary because of his acting and would still be menacing if you stripped away the makeup. Bill Skarsgård is good and brings a new take to the character but his performance is overshadowed by CGI that resembles a video game cut-scene.
My main issue with this movie is the sexualization, objectification, and victimization of Bev. In the book, King has the Losers have sex with Bev in the sewer after they defeat Pennywise the first time, when they’re desperate and lost in the sewer. The scene is incredibly controversial, although King writes it in a loving and not salacious matter. King has said this regarding the matter;
I wasn’t really thinking of the sexual aspect of it. The book dealt with childhood and adulthood –1958 and Grown Ups. The grown ups don’t remember their childhood. None of us remember what we did as children–we think we do, but we don’t remember it as it really happened. Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood. It’s another version of the glass tunnel that connects the children’s library and the adult library. Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues.Source
Bev having sex with every member of the Losers when she’s eleven feels much less gross than the fact that Bev is objectified by literally every male character she encounters in the movie, including her father. I actually like this incarnation of Bev, she’s tough and funny. But it’s creepy that everyone from her closest friends to the neighborhood pharmacist look at Bev lustfully, that Bev uses her sex appeal to get what she wants (Whatever sex appeal a preteen can have), and that the lighting and music changes when she’s onscreen and if she is onscreen with the other Losers they’re usually all staring at her. It’s a weird choice because in the book she’s so clearly just one of the guys except to Ben. In the book every member of the Losers brings something to the group that makes it strong–Bill is the leader, Ben is great at building things, Mike knows the town’s history and connects the past with the present, Stan is the skeptic, Eddie has an amazing sense of direction, and Bev is an amazing shot. Bev is actually the one who shoots Pennywise. In this movie, Bev is reduced to being an object of lust and someone to be rescued.
I’m not sure if the sexualization and objectification of Bev is an attempt to demonstrate how rotten Derry is because of Pennywise’s influence. If it is, then this isn’t established enough in the movie. One of the main points of the book is that Derry looks like a nice small town but it isn’t really a nice place to live in. Pennywise corrupts everyone so that normally good people are complicit with evil and he makes bad people even worse. There’s a brief scene where Ben begs for help and is ignored when Henry is attacking him but that’s about it.
In this movie, she’s reduced to a victim needing rescue after Pennywise kidnaps her and serves as a plot device to bring the Losers back together after they have a fight. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Ben is able to bring her back with a kiss after she looks into Pennywise’s deadlights.
My other main issue is the erasure of Mike Hanlon (Played by Chosen Jacobs) from this movie. Mike has a robust role in the book, even though he’s the last to join the Losers. On a personal note, Mike Hanlon is my favorite of the Losers. I love the Stephen King Universe and I think that it’s cool that Dick Halloran from The Shining knew Mike Hanlon’s dad and used his power to save him when the Maine equivalent of the Klan tried to burn down The Black Spot. I love that Mike is the history buff that connects the dots about Derry’s history with his dad’s photo album. I love that Mike stayed behind and remembered the horror that he witnessed and saw the horror starting again. He’s a cool black nerd who is aware of his blackness because Henry Bowers hates him the most of all the Losers because of his skin color. Sadly, his role is very reduced in this adaptation and, for some reason, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) knows the town’s history, despite the fact that he’s new in town. I don’t understand how a movie released in 2017 can have less progressive roles for women and people of color than a book released in 1986.
It’s very frustrating that director Andy Muschietti took source material about the power of belief, loss of innocence, and how growing up changes people, and turned it into a movie about beating up a clown monster with rebar.
I liked the kids’ performances but, since that was one of the only high points of the movie, I don’t know if I’ll bother seeing the sequel since it will have a new, adult cast. Jack Dylan Grazer was particularly great as Eddie Kaspbrack. He really stole the show. As a Stranger Things fan I wish I liked Finn Wolfhard more as Richie Tozier. Richie’s lines were funny but I think Wolfhard lacked commitment. Richie thinks he’s the funniest person in the room so his lines need to be said with this confidence.
There were aspects of this movie that were enjoyable but, for me, the problematic parts outweighed the entertaining parts. I don’t understand how an ABC t.v. movie from 1991 with a $12 million budget can have more nuance than a movie from 2017 with a $35 million budget. I’m hoping that the success of Black Panther is a sign that the era of using woman and people of color as tools for white people plot advancement is dying.