Did you ever ride on a ghost train? Getting the short sharp shocks that scare you in the moment, sitting there in the darkness, but leave no lasting impression once you’re back out in the light of the real world? A ghost train won’t get under your skin, or have you waking up at night in a cold sweat. It’s a house of jumpscares, designed to get you give you a shot of adrenaline and maybe elicit a few screams. It’s what you paid for and as such will generally leave you satisfied.
Which brings us to IT, a new adaptation of the Stephen King novel, geared towards modern audiences perhaps unfamiliar with the previous adaptation’s infamous legacy for creating a generation of coulrophobes.
In 1988 in the town of Derry (not that one) a young boy goes missing after encountering a clown calling itself Pennywise (Bill Skarsgárd) hiding in the storm drains. The next year the boy’s older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and his friends – the Losers Club – find themselves haunted by the same entity, that shape shifts and preys on their worst fears. Needing closure for the guilt he feels for his part in his brother’s death, Bill and the Losers delve deeper into the town’s history uncovering the sinister truth behind their tragic town.
A remake of any well known film already has an uphill battle on its hands given that the film is either always a) beloved, b) part of the public consciousness or c) both. 2017’s IT then, directed by Andy Muschietti (Mama), has it’s work cut out for it falling as it does under option C. Happily, it is more than up to the task, creating effective, if unoriginal, scares and getting the best out of it’s young cast.
A long film, it takes about an hour to properly kick in though that opening act easily contains the most effective and tensest moments in the film; an ominously floating red balloon, an encounter with a creepy and very three dimensional painting, something in the sewers. Ironically the scares that work best are the ones without the titular clown (well, they’re all actually the clown but you know what I mean) as the film is forced to play its Joker card early. Because Tim Curry’s Pennywise from the 1990 TV movie is embedded in almost everyone’s mind it makes no sense to hide him/It from the audience and as such he/It becomes the least scary thing in the film despite the attempts made to make him/It terrifying. Which is not to say the performance is bad, with Bill Skarsgard giving good evil complete with maniacal laugh but once you’ve seen one clown, you’ve seen them all even with the CGI augmented bells and whistles. The higher rating helps with the disconcerting atmosphere hugely as while the quiet quiet LOUD jumpscares don’t linger in the mind, the pervasive bleakness of the situation, which involves a clown abducting and killing kids let’s not forget means the film always has stakes beyond the BOO moments. It’s necessarily grim at points, and catches you off guard with an opening scene that let’ you know the type of film you’re in for.
Built more around the pre-teens rather than the scares you need an ensemble that you care for and the young cast here sell the situation well, providing a real verisimilitude to the piece. Evoking similar young person led movies from the 80’s in which kids actually talk like real kids helps enormously. So often are characters this age watered down to get that family friendly rating; these kids swear, mercilessly mock each other, steal, get into fights and generally feel like real people. And real peoples are total jerks. The friendships feel authentic and lived in; the humourous exchanges between the boys allow you to get a few in between scares chuckles and the cast step up to the plate impressively with no dud among the performances even if they are clichéd archetypes.
The film could find a similar audience to that of the 1990 version, with kids hooked on the Stranger Things vibe and looking for something harder, kids slightly too young to be watching and finding they can identify with the characters and who knows, maybe they’ll find it as terrifying as we did our version.
It won’t trouble your nightmares (unless you already have that clown phobia, in which case why’d you even go and see it?) but it’s a fun ghost ride of a movie.
See you for Chapter Two.
Thanks to MovieHouse Cinemas for the preview invite.