Sound Off! IT

Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, face your fears and discuss IT, which premiered in the United States on Friday, September 8, 2017.

Sound Off! is meant to be a reaction, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places: you may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-watching.

Now, join Shara White, Casey Price, and Nancy O’Toole Meservier as they talk about IT! [Note: No spoilers.]


Shara: Maybe I should be ashamed for saying so, but this 2017 film is my first experience with anything resembling Stephen King’s IT. I haven’t read the book. I haven’t seen the television adaptation with Tim Curry. I am, however, somewhat familiar with the nature of the story and with Pennywise, and after watching the trailers and a sneak peak, I was very much looking forward to seeing this movie in theaters.

Watching IT was an an odd experience, for a few reasons. One, because I always have a sort of whiplash reading/watching a classic when I’m so familiar with the material that’s come after, which leads to my second reason watching this movie was an odd experience: Stranger Things. I knew Netflix’s original series was an homage to Stephen King’s classic (among many other things), but holy moly — I’m starting to understand my husband’s discontent about that show. There’s a fine line between homage and just outright… I don’t want to say theft. It’s just that I didn’t realize how many pieces of other properties were lifted wholesale in order to tell that story and how it’s glued together with so much nostalgia. The saving grace is that no one in their right mind is pretending Stranger Things is original material. The show celebrates and owns its influences and inspirations.

So while this Sound Off isn’t about Stranger Things, my experience of having seen Stranger Things before experiencing any form of IT made quite a great number of things about watching the movie rather jarring. Especially seeing Finn Wolfhard, who played lead Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things, hide behind the Coke-bottle glasses as Richie Tozier of IT. Then other similarities popped up, and I started wondering why this story keeps getting told over and over. Even the final climax wasn’t as powerful as I felt it could be, because I felt I’d seen it before, and I’m not even blaming Stranger Things for that one.

There were some legitimately creepy moments in the movie for me. The opening was beautiful until it turned chilling. The scene with the projector was startling and claustrophobic, and I kept wanting to yell, “Unplug the damn thing!” And there’s a genius moment in the library when Ben is doing his research and in the background, over Ben’s right shoulder as the Pennywise music is playing and we know things are about to get weird, there’s this little old lady just standing there being creepy as fuck.

But those are little, flourishing moments. I left the movie theater not thinking about what a terrifying horror movie I’d seen, but rather how the worst monsters in the movie were the adults in these kids’ lives (with the arguable exception of Bill’s dad). Don’t get me wrong: it all makes sense, thematically, and why Pennywise chooses to feed on and terrorize the children of Derry. It’s just a theme I’ve seen before, which is a shame, because IT’s the classic the theme is probably based on.

Beverly Marsh, however, is freaking awesome.


Casey: I have taught myself the art of accepting a film for what it is rather than what it is not. This meant learning to distance adaptations from their source material. I had mixed feelings about going to see IT; Stephen King movies are extremely hit or miss for me. I was more than a little let down by The Dark Tower (the more I think about it, the less thrilled I become about that film), so there was some trepidation going into IT.

Let me go ahead and get my one real complaint out of the way: I hated what they did to Beverly’s character. My two movie-viewing companions argued in favor of the film’s choices with her, and I can see their point, but it doesn’t make me less grumpy about Bev becoming, essentially, a damsel in distress. Other than that, I was disappointed that the camaraderie of the Losers’ Club was diminished so much as to be almost nonexistent. The miniseries and novel both had moments that showed that the group were friends who cared for each other beyond just being a junior investigative team. I’m also not sure how I feel about Ben replacing Mike as the historian of the group — I wonder how this will play into the second movie and whether Ben will be the one to take Mike’s role in Chapter Two (trying to avoid spoilers).

I must take a moment to enthusiastically applaud Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise. A worthy successor to Tim Curry, and a completely different take on the character. Kudos! Nightmares are almost certainly forthcoming.

I’m pleased with the film. I cringed away from the screen more times than I can count. I was quite literally pushing myself back against the seat in some sort of pathetic attempt to get away from the whole parade of nopes making their way across the screen. This was genuinely terrifying. And that’s a good thing, truly. The filmmakers did a nice job creating Derry and the overall malaise that plagues the town and its residents. The parents were genuinely frightening in their actions and attitudes. The cold, uncaring expressions on the adults as they rode by poor Ben as he was being terrorized by Henry and his thugs was chilling. I liked how the film established that It was able to sway the townspeople in subtle ways. The television program that almost all of the adults were watching, for example, was mostly background noise unless you knew what you were hearing. By the time that Henry was caught up in that influence, though, it was almost too late in the game to truly reveal Derry’s ugly underbelly, but it still worked out.

I liked it. I decided to pick the book back up after years and am casually re-reading it so that I can reacquaint myself with the original tale. I intend to see this again, and soon.


 

Nancy: Horror movies aren’t really my thing, and I suspect that has a lot to do with the fact that they don’t really scare me. Admittedly, this is kind of odd. I was plenty scared of them as a kid, and as an adult, lots about real life terrifies me (Nuclear holocaust! Super cholera! Our current political discourse!). Still, every now and then, an interesting looking flick — like IT –– will arrive and appear to be worth my attention.

And now, I can happily report that IT is 100% worth yours.

Much of IT‘s success has to do with its talented, insanely young cast and the wonderful chemistry they share with teach other. The seven child actors that make up the main cast absolutely shine here, and this script expects a lot of them. It’s probably why some of the best moments of the movie are the characters just being kids, riffing on each other, dealing with school bullies, and enjoying their summer. Interestingly, there were times when the movie would shift over to the horror elements, and I found myself almost sorry for it, wanting to spend more time on character development.

That’s not to say that the horror aspects aren’t impressive. Each child has at least one creeptastic moment with the monstrous Pennywise, resulting in some truly twisted imagery. I found these scenes to be incredibly effective, filled with great suspense-building and gorgeous lighting. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Bill Skarsgård — who plays Pennywise — is really just effective at being creepy and unnerving, whether its in simple dialogue exchanges or large effects-driven set pieces.

Of course, IT is not free of issues. Perhaps it’s the natural consequence of boiling down even half of a 1,000+ page novel, but the script can feel overstuffed, struggling to give each character the appropriate amount of screen time. Out of the main seven, poor Mike (the “outsider,” home school student, and film’s only major character of color) is the one who gets the shortest end of the stick. And while Bill Skarsgård is a great Pennywise, I weirdly found myself favoring Tim Curry’s more comedic take on the character from the 1990s miniseries.

Despite its flaws, IT is a strong horror offering, with worthwhile performances all around and some great scares. Whether you’re a fan of the book, the miniseries, or are going in completely blind, I suspect you’ll find a lot to enjoy about this Stephen King adaptation. I’m already looking forward to Chapter Two.

10 Comments

  • Nicole Taft September 12, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Don’t feel bad about that, Shara. I’ve never read the book, and though I have seen the mini-series, I think I’m in the minority because I was not a fan at all. I remember when it was over I looked at my friends and said, “I wasted over 3 hours of my life on this?” Mostly because they didn’t exactly explain wtf was actually going on (I’ve since cheated and looked up a full summary of the book online). Because when a giant spider strolled into frame I just thought, “THAT’S It? A spider? This is dumb.”

    Reply
    • Shara White September 12, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      No spiders here! There will be a second chapter to the movie though, so who knows what the next movie will entail (I suspect it’s these kids as adults, if what I’ve been told as about the book is any indication).

      Reply
      • Nicole Taft September 12, 2017 at 2:42 pm

        Yeah, I’ve heard they’re splitting the story into two – one for the kids and the second for when they come back as adults.

        Reply
        • Carey Ballard September 22, 2017 at 6:26 pm

          So they are doing that because, yes, the book’s first half is what got translated into this movie, and the second half is them as adults finally confronting IT.

          There are a ton of Easter eggs in the film (no pun intended) for fans of the book, from tee shirt slogans to statues, and the spider is one of those. However, I hope they don’t do more with that. Without spoiling anything as a King fan, all I can say is that he’s well known for his horror stories, but he sucks at long-form endings.

          Reply
  • Kelly McCarty September 12, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    I had really thought about seeing this movie in the theater, but I wanted to read the book first. I have to confess that I could not make it though the book. I read about 300 pages, but wound up taking it back to the library. It was one of those Stephen King books that begs for an editor. I felt like it was bogged down and I lost track of how was who when it switched back and forth from their adulthoods to the childhoods. It’s interesting to me that they changed it from the 1950s in the book to the 1980s in the movie. I never saw the mini-series, either.

    Reply
    • Shara White September 12, 2017 at 4:37 pm

      See the movie first!!!! I wrote a whole column on why!

      Reply
    • Casey Price September 12, 2017 at 10:32 pm

      I saw or read that they re-set the movie in the 80s to make it more relevant to today’s audience.

      Reply
      • Shara White September 13, 2017 at 6:07 pm

        I read that too, which makes sense, but it definitely created a weird sense of whiplash. That being said, I think it was the Tor.com discussion that pointed out how IT did a better job at SHOWING how real life kids lived in the eighties, rather than having eighties THINGS populate the world just because nostalgia.

        Reply
  • Carey Ballard September 22, 2017 at 6:34 pm

    Finally saw IT this afternoon and loved it. It was like reading the book (with a few plot points thankfully missing). IT does spend less time on camaraderie, etc., but the chemistry! And the horror was well done. Bill Skarsgard is to IT what Heath Ledger was to the Joker. I loved Batman when it came out in 1989, and loved the IT miniseries when it came out a year later (RIP Jonathan Brandeis), but that iteration of Batman can’t touch the Dark Knight, just as IT Chapter One is as dark as the 1990 miniseries should have been–but the miniseries was on network TV, so.

    We’ll get to see more of Skarsgard in the Castle Rock TV series next year.

    Reply
    • Shara White September 23, 2017 at 2:55 pm

      We watched the tv mini-series a week after seeing the movie in theaters, and I have to say…. I wish I’d watched the mini-series first. Which is weird, but I really feel like the movie lost so much of what made the camaraderie so special, and experiencing the trauma through the adult flashbacks might’ve made me appreciate the movie more…. yet as I explained to my husband, maybe it was good I experienced the movie without bias, which means my criticism of it can stand, that it felt like a standard horror movie. I still feel like the bloody bathroom scene was WAY overdone, and I felt the way it was handled in the mini-series was more effective in that the blood kept coming back until she joined up with her friends to clean it.

      And in the mini-series, I really felt like Bev was one of the guys. Not so with the movie, and it didn’t help they made her a damsel, so I appreciate Casey’s criticism more and more. Not that I still don’t love her rage and anger and ability to kick ass in the movie, mind you.

      Reply

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