It made $123 million on its opening weekend. This had to be music to the ears of both Hollywood and moviegoers, as we’re coming off one of the most dreadful summers in film history, where only three movies can truly be considered successes (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2, WONDER WOMAN, and DUNKIRK). Audiences either stayed away completely or didn’t turn out as studios had hoped for the umpteenth sequels in multiple franchises, and also sadly ignored a few truly great gems from the past couple of months (IT COMES AT NIGHT and GOOD TIME). And yes, IT is another remake, from the infamous Stephen King novel and the 1990 ABC television miniseries. But this particular remake struck a chord early with audiences, as the trailers and marketing campaign promised a scary, decidedly R-rated take on the source material. And it worked. It is already a hit, and any doubts as to whether there would be a Chapter 2 vanished in the early morning hours of the Saturday after it opened. Audiences and critics have both overwhelmingly praised the film, so I’ve been wondering since I left the theater…why didn’t IT really work for me?
I certainly don’t think it’s a bad movie. And I didn’t go in with a preconceived stance towards the film. I bought the marketing, and was ready for a fun, scary time. And there’s some fun to be had. As a crowd-pleaser, the movie definitely works. The audience I watched IT with was completely engaged, screaming and laughing at all the right spots. Child actors are always a hit-and-miss proposition, and let’s face it: they’re usually cringeworthy. But the kids here (who have to completely carry the movie, no easy task) are great across the board, with Sophia Lillis (as Beverly) and Finn Wolfhard (as Richie) being the standouts. (Wolfhard will be doing his foul-mouthed schtick in Judd Apatow-style comedies for years to come.) There’s unexpected humor throughout (given the subject matter) that surprisingly works, with a running gag about one character’s New Kids on the Block fandom being the best of the bunch. Bill Skarsgard, during the moments where it is actually just him on screen (more on that in a bit) is suitably creepy as Pennywise and makes the right choice to not just mimic Tim Curry’s take on the character. And the film is, as promised, proudly R-rated through and through, delivering violence and gore that obviously couldn’t happen on network television nearly thirty years ago.
But even with all that the film gets right, I couldn’t help but feel disappointment with it overall. I realize this isn’t going to be a revolutionary hot take, but the overuse of CGI in modern horror films absolutely kills any sense of dread for me. Most of IT’s big scares are (very) obvious CGI work, which took me out of those moments. The part of the book that most terrified me when I first read it in middle school (a disease-ridden homeless man who chases and threatens to sexually assault one of the kids) is brought to life here (albeit without the threat of assault), but again it’s another CG creation that is momentarily creepy but not as frightening as you would expect. The big final hook of the IT trailer is Pennywise rushing toward the character of Bill in a dark, flooded basement. As a trailer moment, it’s fantastic, but in the film, its impact is lessened as almost every Pennywise scare is a CG version of him rushing towards the characters (and by this point in the film, there’s already been a couple of them.) Most of Pennywise’s moments on screen seem to be special effects rather than the actor in costume, with only one that truly unnerved me (where he unfolds himself out of a refrigerator.) There’s many, many aspects of the TV movie that don’t work at all upon modern viewing (and maybe they didn’t in 1990 either): the more ambitious special effects limited by budgetary restraints; the heavily cut down second half of the film; Harry Anderson. But I’ll happily take Tim Curry wearing prop jagged, yellowed fangs and snarling at the camera instead of the borderline embarrassing CG ones that show up a few times during the 2017 version.
Curry himself also casts a heavy shadow. Despite what people think of the TV movie, Curry’s performance is rightfully remembered for its creepiness and macabre humor. Skarsgard has one fantastic moment in the film (the “I’m not real enough for you?” moment) but it almost feels like he could have done more with the role if they hadn’t relied so heavily on the special effects. Perhaps in Chapter 2 he’ll get that opportunity, but as anyone who has read IT knows where the story is heading, I get the feeling there will be even less of him in the sequel.
I was also hoping that more of the legend of Pennywise and the world around IT would be in the movie, which was implied as a goal for the filmmakers early on. Obviously working all of the backstory of what It exactly is and the history of the town couldn’t make it into the film (the book is nearly 1,200 pages long) but to have it simplified to some expository dialogue and left at that was a letdown. I never really felt the sense of history of the town or the dread that hangs over the book in the movie. Again, hopefully this will be expanded on in the sequel, as the characters become older and can delve more into the history of the town, but my heart tells me it’s just going to build to the actors fighting a CGI spider.
I get the feeling that I’m in the minority on the film, even with just having a halfhearted overall reaction to it. The critical reviews and general audience reactions are overwhelmingly positive. Hopefully the sequel can improve on the weaknesses of this first chapter (although the adult actors already have a huge burden to overcome following up on the work the kids did here) and they’ll actually let Skarsgard do more. Or maybe I’m just completely wrong here, in which case, I’ll just float away.