Welcome back to Derry.
One of the most hotly-anticipated (and high-grossing) horror films in recent memory, 2017’s IT is Andy Muschietti’s take on the beloved 1986 novel by Stephen King. For over a year, the horror community has been torn between ecstasy at the chance of seeing a version of IT that lives up to the book and dreading an adaptation that isn’t quite up to snuff. Would Bill Skarsgård deliver as Pennywise? Would the film capture the spirit of the novel? Would it improve upon the oft-panned 1991 miniseries?
Would IT float?
By now, you’ve likely seen IT at least once. If not, you may want to revisit this post after you have — this post veers straight into spoiler territory, providing a deeper look at what the AOAS squad loved, what we loathed, and what we wanted more of from this major adaptation.
Valeska: Make no mistake — IT is a damn good-looking movie. I wish that the sewers had been a little less underwhelming, but was pretty impressed with how the rest of it looked.
Suri: Damn good-looking, indeed. Chung-hoon Chung — Park Chan-wook’s cinematographer — behind the camera. The opening sequence with Georgie and the paper boat? Amazing. But the production design was too on the nose for my liking. IT’s haunted house, for example, looked straight out of an overly CGI’d Tim Burton film. And the small-town setting; I appreciate the idyllic period feel, but I would have preferred a better sense of Derry’s seedy underbelly — like how David Lynch rendered the Midwest in Blue Velvet. Derry is supposed to be the real monster of the story; Pennywise is just a mirror. The score, too, veered into maudlin territory and could have been more subtle and unsettling.
It’s really too bad that Cary Fukunaga quit the project. God, he did such an amazing job directing the first season of True Detective — he really gets that whole Lovecraftian mysticism thing that Stephen King is all about. He would have nailed IT.
Michelle: This film is gorgeous. I soaked in every single thing about the way it looked and I loved it. From the opening scenes with Georgie in the rain, to the magnificent, bloody bathroom scene, IT is indeed damn good-looking.
CC: I really loved the production of IT. I was fully immersed in the whole thing – but I also agree with V and Suri. I would have loved a little more exploration and lingering on Pennywise’s sewers and Suri’s suggestion of Derry in a Lynchian color would have really amplified the creepiness and unsavory happenings of the small town.
PENNYWISE AND HIS MANY GUISES
Valeska: Bill Skarsgård did a superb job with Pennywise! The scene with Georgie was masterful, and he really did manage to make the character his own. I didn’t think of the iconic Tim Curry version once while watching the film. I’m even satisfied by the depiction of the deadlights!
My only issue with Pennywise (and this is on Muschietti, not Skarsgård), is that we see him too often. In the book, the monsters that the Loser’s Club sees have the same silver eyes and orange pom-poms as the clown form — we don’t need to see the actual clown to be able to draw the conclusion that all of these glamours are the same entity. It’s a small quibble, but I feel like the monster scenes would have been less repetitive and more interesting without that dumbing-down. And I can’t believe that they teased the Paul Bunyan scene and didn’t deliver! Dastardly! I wanted to see Richie take on that statue!
Suri: I agree wholeheartedly. Bill Skarsgård was incredible. I loved his renaissance “fool” costuming — it was a lot more frightening than a modern-day clown suit. But by the end of the film, I no longer found him scary because, as you said, we saw him too much. I wanted more monster scenes — the bit with Ben in the library with the haunted history book and headless pursuer made me sleep with my light on, haha. But in fairness, we don’t know if it’s Muschietti’s fault. Maybe he was trying to accommodate studio demands? After all, Fukunaga is rumoured to have left the film because of creative differences.
I can’t say that I share your feelings about the Paul Bunyan set piece. It was left out of the film for a reason — wouldn’t it channel the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man on screen?
Michelle: I agree that Bill Skarsgård was phenomenal as Pennywise. Like Valeska said, I didn’t think of Tim Curry once! It’s simply not possible or necessary to compare these two very different interpretations of Pennywise at all. I like how Bill Skarsgård’s real life lazy eye makes Pennywise’s eye rolling even more impressive and terrifying. Every time his eyes rolled back and the teeth came out – just wow! I love how the design of his clown suit exaggerates how tall and thin he is to make Pennywise look spindly and spider-like. That really added to the creep factor for me. I have to disagree that we saw him too much. He’s such a fascinating creature, that I almost wanted to see him more. I was legitimately afraid of Pennywise, especially in the scene where the Loser’s Club was projecting pictures on the wall and he came out of it. The way he got in your face actually made me physically cringe!
CC: I really appreciate the effort put into making Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise his own. The first time we see him and hear him speak in the sewer to Georgie was perfect. The twitches, voice, and eye rolls were really unsettling and effective. I also thought using Skarsgård’s height against the children, to make this physically looming monster, was really great. Seeing him “unfold” himself out of the box, limb by limb, was cringe-inducing. I do agree that we did see him a bit too much for my tastes too. I agree with V, we don’t need to see IT to understand that he’s the one pulling the strings. I really would have loved seeing the other Losers’ fears especially with hints of a clown like she mentioned in the book. A pom-pom here, red hair there. It would have been even more effective in my opinion.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MIKE HANLON AND DERRY’S BIGOTED HISTORY
Valeska: I was really disappointed by the treatment of Mike and I know that Suri was, too. We actually exchanged a couple of brief words in the theatre when we realized that Mike’s role as historian of the Loser’s Club was being given to Ben. When we walked out, I asked if all of Mike’s lines had ended up cut — I consciously paid attention to how little he was featured, not only in terms of dialogue but even just being physically present in shots. When we did see him, he was just in the background silently grimacing. It’s such a shame, because not only did we miss out on an opportunity to have a fascinating black character in a horror film (that lives to the end!), but the film was robbed of much of its complexity and allegory when Derry’s ugly history with regards to race was embargoed in favour of a simpler and more accessible monster movie. And while I understand why it was dumbed down and streamlined (after all, you can’t fit much nuance into a two-hour movie with 7 main characters), I do wish that this adaptation had been a Netflix series, with the same cast.
Suri: There’s a great article about how Mike was downgraded into a “token” visible minority character. Which is a shame, because he should be the heart of the story. In the book, the Losers only realize that they’re a force of good greater than the sum of their parts when they first meet him. From that moment on, they all work together to defeat Pennywise. Mike is the one who stays in Derry after the others leave to seek their fortunes, to keep an eye on the town and learn more about its history. And when IT returns, he rounds up the other Losers. The de facto steward of Derry, if you will. It just makes no sense that Ben was the historian instead.
Oh wait, yes it does. Given that the film is only two hours long, it was likely more economical for Ben to find old articles about Derry in the scene when he’s hiding in the library than for Mike to be a farm kid and a historian. The kids are all presented as archetypes with one main “thing.”
It’s definitely a shame that Derry’s racist history was excised. I mean, I get that the book is sprawling and incredibly difficult to adapt. The filmmakers went above and beyond expectation by simply creating an engaging and entertaining film. But it lacks depth and feels reductive. You’re right that it would have made a perfect Netflix series.
I had a thought. The political and social scene in North America is pretty volatile these days. (Well, it has been for centuries, but you get my drift.) Do you think the filmmakers felt that including the racism would have exacerbated real-life discord, and/or detracted from the narrative? Similarly to how Sofia Coppola erased one African-American character and whitewashed another in her adaptation of The Beguiled. (To its detriment.)
Valeska: I think that’s all the more reason to explore those themes, or to at least develop Mike as the fully-fleshed out, intelligent, loveable, strong, resourceful character that he is!
Michelle: I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t read the book yet. I bought it months ago with the intention of reading it before the movie came out. I am aware of Mike’s backstory though, and agree with you both that it’s disheartening that they completely erased his story from the film. Mike’s role in the story seemed way too small to me and I think they could have included at least some of his history, but for whatever reasons chose not to. Suri, you bring up a good point about the social climate in the U.S. right now. I too have to wonder if that had something to do with Mike’s backstory being ignored by the filmmakers. Including his story would have definitely given more depth to the film and it is a shame they left it out.
CC: This did bother me quite a bit, too. I read the book also, and Mike is not only the narrator in the book but the glue that holds these individuals together into adulthood. He becoming the librarian/historian of Derry is what brings these adults back to their childhood to remember the promise they made to each other. I can see Suri’s point that maybe the filmmakers wanted to stay out of politics with our current situation, but I feel like they really did a disservice to the Mike character and what he represents within the group. I understand they probably wanted to have a different plotline to an extent to really make it their own, but they could have still had Ben as the “new kid” and Mike fulfill simultaneously.
RICHIE ‘TRASHMOUTH’ TOZIER
Valeska: I wasn’t sure how I felt about Finn Wolfhard’s casting at first, but I am totally willing to admit that I vastly underestimated him. He was PERFECT in the role. I was in stitches anytime he was on the screen, even when the dialogue was a little cheesy. He and Eddie are the characters I keep coming back to.
Suri: Finn was PERFECT as Ritchie. Like I said to you on Twitter, he made the film. And he had such great chemistry with the other kids.
Michelle: I was more than a little surprised at the casting of Finn Wolfhard as Richie, mainly because he is also in Stranger Things and I didn’t want to compare the Loser’s Club to the kids in that show. I think he was fantastic as Richie though and forgot all about Stranger Things while watching IT.
CC: I LOVED Finn Wolfhard and the whole cast of kids. I thought they were perfect and really carried the film. The chemistry was so palpable – it really made you care about them. And Richie’s foul mouth was hilarious, I’m with you V, I laughed so hard. I super enjoyed both sailor mouth Richie and neurotic Eddie.
BEVERLY MARSH AND THE GRIM SPECTRE OF IMPENDING WOMANHOOD
Valeska: I thought Sophia Lillis was amazing as Bev. She looks about 5 years older than the others, but whatever — girls mature faster than guys.
Speaking of maturing (forgive my segue), but I wonder how you guys felt about Beverly’s character being so explicitly tied to puberty and the dangers of burgeoning female sexuality. We have a scene earlier on in the film where she is shopping for tampons, she is slut-shamed by her classmates, and of course there is the increasing threat of sexual abuse by her father. While all of the others have their first encounter with an It that takes on the form of some monster or another (both in the book and in the film), Beverly experiences It as an unexpected torrent of blood in a bathroom — in the film, the blood is actually accompanied by inexplicable hair, which is as apt a metaphor for puberty as I’ve ever seen on film.
Michelle: I completely fell in love with Sophia Lillis as Bev. She is a wonderful actress and a pleasure to watch on-screen and she really made me care about Bev. It did feel a little odd and even uncomfortable at times to see Bev’s sexuality presented the way it was in the film. She seemed a lot older than the boys in the Loser’s Club and the sexual elements of the movie hurt the group vibe a bit for me. I know about the infamous orgy scene in the book and I’m so glad it wasn’t in the movie.
CC: Sophia Lillis was fantastic, as I said with all the Losers – they really brought their A game and I want to watch everything they are associated with. The sexualization of Bev was heavy and super uncomfortable to watch, but remembering being a girl who developed super early and that fear of ‘womanhood’ – I think it was intensely accurate. Totally agree – the bathroom scene was epic and so intense. Sophia did a fantastic job of balancing that act of prepubescent naivety and maturity.
THE DAMSEL IN DISTRESS
Valeska: Apart from the Mike Hanlon issues, the one thing that I hated the most about the film is the inclusion of the damsel-in-distress trope. A part of me just detached from the film the second that she was taken. I don’t care that they are likely drawing a parallel with Audra in the second part, I found it profoundly boring and lazy. You want to take a captive? Take Eddie! He weighs about eight pounds and only has one working arm!
Suri: Ugh. My friend just wrote a blog post about how badass Beverly was in the miniseries — how she was relegated from defeating IT with her slingshot into Sleeping Beauty. I remember telling you in the theatre that the filmmakers were likely building up to the Audra storyline … or maybe hinting that Beverly will eventually pair off with “Prince” Ben, hence why he awakens her with a kiss. Bleh, either way.
Michelle: I’m going to have to disagree with you both, because I didn’t have a problem with the damsel in distress and actually didn’t see it that way at all. Maybe that’s because I haven’t read the book or maybe that’s just the way I perceived it.
CC: I’m with Suri and V, I think because of the book and the miniseries, I was looking for Beverly to be a bit more of a badass. Though it didn’t make me dislike the film, I didn’t really care for the fact that Beverly was “kidnapped by the monster so the Knights in Shining Armor could save her” – and the strange “true love’s” kiss from Ben awakening her from the deadlights and her turning around and kissing Bill was a really strange path to take from the books for me. She held her own when they were battling IT, but I was just wanting more.
THE POWER OF IMAGINATION
Valeska: The book is a lot more concerned with the power of imagination — where the film relies more on conventional weapons, the book infused the mundane with special magic, whether it was Richie’s sneezing powder or the names in Stan’s bird book. The Loser’s Club was able to weaponize objects through the power of their own belief and imagination (possibly with the help of the Turtle, but I digress). It’s an idea that I found so charming and lovely in the novel, and I really wish that the film had incorporated that.
Suri: Me as well. In the film, Pennywise is portrayed as a garden-variety monster whom the Losers defeat through overcoming their fear. It’s cliched; he’s supposed to be their worst nightmares — the monsters under their beds made tangible. And he presents himself that way because terror flavours his prey. Especially kids, whose fears are more pure. Werewolves … Frankenstein. I guess Pennywise is a flesh connoisseur? But he doesn’t feed on fear itself. Like you said, in the book, he’s overcome by the Losers maintaining faith in white magic — the obverse of being scared of monsters and the dark. Werewolves and such being killed by silver bullets … good prevailing over evil ….
Michelle: Again, since I haven’t read the book, I can’t comment on comparisons to the film, but I do agree that the movie could have relied more on imagination. I know that Stephen King has acknowledged that Pennywise isn’t just a clown. Somewhere there is an interview with him where he talks about this. Pennywise is a Lovecraftian, supernatural, shapeshifting creature. If you know Lovecraft’s work, you understand what IT actually is and it’s kind of a shame that we see him as the clown so much. I do think the leper was pretty scary and well done. I agree that it would have been more fun if the Losers used their imagination and power of belief to defeat Pennywise. Overall I’m really pleased with the film and can’t remember the last time I felt so emotionally invested in a movie and was genuinely afraid like I was watching IT. It’s a wonderful movie.
Suri: I think it’s a given that we all like the film. But it could have been better.
Valeska: Yeah, I do really enjoy the film, but I’m frustrated by a lot of the choices — the cast was perfect, and with the right approach, IT could have been incredible. For instance, another thing that bothered me was the way the group broke apart midway through the film — The Loser’s Club was supposed to be ride or die, that was part of their power! I understand the narrative reasoning, but it didn’t ring true for the characters as I know them. I just wanted the film to be amazing and hold onto the larger themes a bit more. I’m glad that non-book-readers were able to so fully appreciate the film for what it is, though!
CC: There’s a lot of things I would have liked to have seen and sure it could have been tightened up here or there – but overall I really thought they did a legitimately good job of adapting it into a more modern take. Definitely could have been better like Suri said, and I would have liked to see the exploration of Pennywise’s influence rather than just the clown trope – here’s to hoping that’s the route they take in Chapter 2!
What did you think of IT? Let us know in the comments, or chat with us on Twitter @aoas_xx!