It’s scary, dis­gust­ing, fans love It Hol­ly­wood saviour sur­faces in shape of de­ranged cir­cus clown

Waterloo Region Record - - ARTS & LIFE - Joel Ru­bi­noff

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.

MARCO GROB, WARNER BROS. PIC­TURES

Pen­ny­wise the Danc­ing Clown is the an­tag­o­nist in the Steven King horror thriller “It” that is box of­fice hit

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