Scares but where did the storyline go?
IT (R16, 135 MINS), DIRECTED BY ANDRESMUSCHIETTI,
Welcome to Stephen King World, circa the 1980s.
We’re in a small town in Maine, of course. It’s a landscape of weathered white clapboard houses, Momand Pop convenience stores and pharmacies, movie houses showing only films that contain some jokey reference to another Stephen King adaptation and where groups of friends get around in gangs of four, preferably on BMXbikes, while fleeing from the neighbourhood bullies.
Put like that, It never was much more than a horror rewrite and expansion of King’s The Body – the novella which was adapted for the screen as Stand By Me – but with the insight and nuance of the earlier book replaced by a psychopathic clown who dwells in the sewers of the town.
Eighties King was never exactly subtle in his metaphors.
On the page, It is an engrossing enough character study of four middle-aged men looking back to the horrific events of 27 years earlier, when a host of school-age children went missing at the hands of said clown.
The book has been adapted once before, in 1990, as a four-hour miniseries of fluctuating quality. The series retained the present/past format, but discarded most of the 1100-page novel’s sub-plots. I do like the symmetry with which this second adaptation of It has been released, 27 years after the TV series. But there most of my admiration for this film ends.
Director Andres Muschietti ( Mama) and his writers – including the terrifically talented Carey Fukunaga ( Beasts of No Nation) – have also thrown out most of what makes the book memorable, that is the relationships between the characters, in favour of a collection of set pieces during which a kid either does or doesn’t get killed.
The film deals only with the childhood-set part of the book – which is probably wise – but never really establishes the cast as anything other than a small selection of over-familiar Stephen King regulars.
There’s the nerd, the fat kid, the troubled orphan and, inevitably, the slightly older and more worldly girl who the boys are left free to objectify and project their fantasies on to.
After the stupendously good series Stranger Things – which paid homage to King as much as it did Steven Spielberg – It seems more than a little redundant. While Stranger Things knew exactly how and when to update and gently mock its inspirations, this It just puts a bullet-point reading of half of the book on- screen without comment or insight.
It contains a number of effective set-pieces and scares (although not nearly as many as last month’s Annabelle: Creation managed in a shorter running time), but it really doesn’t hang together as a narrative.
The gang meet up, get into a scrape with the clown, run away and then meet again a week or a month later to repeat the sequence.
One thing happens after another in a more or less coherent sequence, but that’s a pretty undemanding definition of a plot. It is probably just about enough of a movie to send you home after the screening not quite grumbling that you’ve wasted your money.
Instead of a two-hour plus film, surely this book was – and always has been – crying out for the full 12-part TV series treatment, with every character arc and nuance of story treated with respect and developed to the full.
Knowing that will probably now never happen made it impossible for me to really enjoy It much at all. Still, Stranger Things’ second season starts soon. Looking forward to that. – Graeme Tuckett
This film adaptation of It deals only with the childhood-set part of the book, but never really establishes the cast as anything other than a small selection of over-familiar Stephen King regulars.