It’s scary, disgusting, fans love It Hollywood saviour surfaces in shape of deranged circus clown
As Hollywood recovers from its worst summer in 20 years, amid so much media kvetching you would think the entire industry was about to go down the toilet, a saviour has (predictably) appeared. A rough, maniacally-grinning clown, who kills kids in smalltown Maine and encapsulates their worst nightmares.
Meet “It,” which — in its first week — broke records as the largest September opening, largest fall opening, largest opening for an R-rated horror film, and the biggest opening ever for a Stephen King adaptation.
And the thing that’s really surprising, is that while King’s 1986 book is one of his best, from a critical point of view, it’s not a good movie.
I don’t say this lightly, given that it scored an improbable 70 per cent on the aggregate site Metacritic and a less surprising 86 per cent on the sycophantic Rotten Tomatoes, both of which tend to overpraise films about losers overcoming adversity.
Not to be indelicate, but it’s not surprising, given that most film critics were bullied in high school and love the idea of retribution, if only fictional.
But is it representative of what’s actually up on screen?
To be fair, “It” scary, a horror house thrill ride about a gang of pubescent outcasts waging battle against a shape-shifting force of evil that lurks in the town’s musty sewer system.
And as Hollywood demographers will tell you, horror flicks are the one genre immune to digital era disruption from Netflix and social media, because young people like to be scared, in large groups, in the dark.
But “It” — with its hype about friendship, loyalty and emotional connection — wants to be more than a simple fright show.
It wants to tug your heartstrings as a paean to lost innocence, with a coming-of-age story about mismatched kids who form an unlikely “Loser’s Club” to fight evil.
It wants more than your money — it wants your respect.
“I learned storytelling from Stephen King,” director Andy Muschietti told consequenceofsound.net, of his long fascination with the King of Horror.
“And for me, if you’re telling a horror story, you have to make people feel engaged with the characters. You have to care before you attempt to put them in danger.”
Alas, while there are a couple of nuanced performances, there’s nothing you haven’t seen before in the Netflix drama “Stranger Things,” Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” and Rob Reiner’s previous King adaptation, “Stand By Me.”
The black kid. The Jewish Kid. The chubby kid. The wheezing asthmatic.
I understand the need for easily identifiable audience tropes in a two-hour horror flick, but characters this sketchily drawn, with backstories so ill-defined, have the emotional resonance of an episode of “The Wizards of Waverly Place.”
And much of it doesn’t make sense. The African American kid is targeted by bullies who beat him mercilessly, but — in a nod to delicate sensibilities — with no hint of racism. What’s their motivation? Who knows.
The Jewish kid is considered an outsider because, I gather, he’s Jewish, which may have resonated in 1958, when King’s novel was set, but makes as much sense in 1989 as the film’s one room Victorian library.
The chubby kid is targeted because he’s, well, chubby. How’s that for a backstory?
The kid with the foul mouth is suffering from ... I have no idea.
But the actor who plays him (Canada’s Finn Wolfhard) was more convincing in “Stranger Things,” where every second line wasn’t a smart-aleck riposte to turn him into a 12-year-old Rodney Dangerfield.
“I’m in my forties now and I don’t have kids,” Muschietti told consequenceofsound.net, inadvertently explaining his tone deafness with young actors.
“So I don’t have contact with that generation every day.”
And what’s the 30-year time jump? Set in small-town Maine, updating the era from the ’50s backwater of King’s novel is not only perfunctory, but pointless.
Yes, “Batman” and “Lethal Weapon 2” are playing in local theatres — so props to Muschietti for looking it up on Wikipedia.
But beyond that, it’s a temporal mishmash, with TV stations that flash late night test patterns, kids roaming the streets without supervision and retro bikes with banana seats and giant carrying baskets I’m pretty sure were out of vogue 20 years before the first George Bush took office.
For the record, 1989 — in real life — was the year of the Exxon Valdez tanker spill, the Rolling Stones “Steel Wheels” tour, nonfat fro-yo, the video game “Tetris” and in-your-face movies like “Do The Right Thing? and Roger & Me,” hardly quaint throwbacks to a simpler time. I know. It’s nitpicking. TV shows like “Happy Days” and “That ’70s Show” reduced their eras to a string of bland clichés and enjoyed wild popularity because the jokes were funny.
And let’s be clear: when you’re a kid, every era is golden. The actual decade is irrelevant.
“It becomes this collective experience,” producer Barbara Muschietti told Deadline.com. “Which is what we’re all trying to achieve in this world of disconnection.”
Noble sentiments, despite the fact her brother doesn’t possess the directorial skills to pull it off.
But in these troubled times for Hollywood, it turns out this aspect of King’s novel isn’t actually the drawing card. It’s the clown, stupid. And the sight of an otherworldly psychopath terrorizing twodimensional dorks is an adrenalin rush that plays as well in “It” as it did in 12 “Friday the 13th” films and nine instalments of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
So Hollywood is saved — again — not by an innovative button pusher that reinvents the cinematic wheel, but by the same things that always rescue it in times of trouble: chills, thrills and efficient marketing.
“It’s summer!” notes one of the film’s youthful heroes, about to wage ware on the manic clown monster. “We’re supposed to be having fun. This isn’t fun. It’s scary and disgusting.”
As ad slogans go, you can’t get much clearer than that.
Pennywise the Dancing Clown is the antagonist in the Steven King horror thriller “It” that is box office hit