Warner Bros. has made a remake of the cult hit movie IT, and it opens in theatres this Friday. The story, adapted from Horror Legend Stephen King’s 1986 breakout novel of the same name, traces the lives of a group of children as they attempt to evade the clutches of a nameless, terrifying being that often appears in the guise of an evil clown. Let’s see what the film has in store for viewers.
1. The Direction (5 Stars)
This remake was entrusted to director Andy Muschietti, of ‘Mama’ fame, and you find his skill on display in every scene. Horror movie tropes are trotted out at regular intervals, yet the director, for the most part, manages to put his own personal spin on each trope. The atmosphere of the film is suitably eerie and haunting and is responsible to a large extent for the film’s horror elements.
2. The Acting (5 Stars)
Every actor in the movie is used judiciously. The kids are all charismatic and compelling in their roles, with Sophia Lillis as Beverly and Finn Wolfhard as Richie being the standouts in the group known within the film as ‘The Loser’s Club’. Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise the Clown is channeling more than a little of Heath Ledger’s Joker, but he manages to make the character his own. Plus judicious use of VFX helps add a disturbingly jerky and otherwordly air to the Clown’s movement, hinting that the titular character is so much more than your standard evil clown.
3. The Backdrop (4 Stars)
Hollywood is riding high on 80’s nostalgia at the moment, and the film excellently capitalizes on this fact. There are a number of throwbacks to that time period that will leave a smile of recognition on many in the audience.
But even more than that, IT succeeds in reminding us that there is more to the story than just the children and the clown. We catch brief glimpses of other children outside the club, indifferent adults and vindictive bullies who often appear more threatening than Pennywise himself. It is against this backdrop of neglect and cruelty that the strange horror being played out amongst a group of tweens becomes all the more poignant, thanks to the little moments.
4. More than Just Horror (4 Stars)
IT succeeds in being more than a run-of-the-mill horror. Thanks to the acting and the carefully arranged backdrop for all the action, you get to see actual people rather than movie tropes(for the most part) being chased by the clown. There are moments of drama, quiet tragedy and even humor. Pennywise is not present in every scene, and this film is ultimately about the children, their hopes and dream and fears, and the struggle to survive not just the clown, but their childhoods as well. Which means there’s more ‘Stand by me’ than ‘Mama’ to this remake.
What Doesn’t Work
1. Predictability (3 Stars)
No, not just because it’s adapted from a famous novel. IT is also quite predictable in its use of horror tropes. Here there’s the little shop of horrors, there you find the haunted mansion, over there is the scary bathroom. The director tries to subvert expectations and bring a fresh feel to these scenes, and often succeed, but you also end up feeling as though you’re watching a rehash of a scene that’s been done too many times before rather than something entirely original.
2. No Explanations (2 Stars)
This is half an adaptation. That means you get an adaptation of the novel IT that deals with the activities of the children. The rest of the novel, which features the kids as adults discovering the truth about Pennywise and setting out to defeat him once and for all is intended to be covered in a sequel.
So this movie becomes more or less a highlight reel of the children encountering Pennywise, with very little explanation given as to why he’s there or what he want’s from them beyond wanting to consume them. The movie is more interested in setting up a scary atmosphere than explaining the reasoning behind the horror scenes.
3. Messy Storyline (2.5 Stars)
There are a lot of children for Pennywise to systematically go through, terrify and hopefully consume. This means each individual child gets his five minutes of horror fame while the clown dissects his or her worst fears and acts on them before moving in for the kill. Combine this episodic nature of each child’s encounter with the clown with the story’s refusal to offer explanations, and it is the storyline that suffers, wildly veering from one character to the next and making you feel like you’re seeing several twilight zone episodes one after the other, rather than a complete movie.
4. Too Many Characters (3 Stars)
IT is an ensemble movie, and that means each member of ‘The Loser’s Club’ gets special one-on-one time with Pennywise and short scenes where they have to set up their background and get the audience emotionally invested in seeing them stay alive. While the excellent all-round acting often makes this possible, there are other times when you’re left trying to remember what that kid’s name was, or why we’re supposed to care who his parents were. Some characters come off fully fleshed, while others are reduced to cardboard cutouts with ‘nerdy bespectacled kid’, ‘token girl’ and ‘token black kid’ seemingly their most defining traits.
Average Rating (3.5 Stars)
IT succeeds fairly well as a horror film, but not so much as a standalone feature. While making half an adaptation allowed the director to focus on the horror aspects of the novel, the end result is too disjointed for the movie to take its place among horror classics. The movie does a good job of setting up its sequel, and a possible IT extended universe that talks about the other classic elements from the novel, like the ‘Headlights’ and the ‘Turtle’. It remains to be seen whether the movie will be a big enough success to make the sequel a reality, where we get to the see The Loser’s Club finally come to grips with the murderous clown.