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Review: Big screen take on Stephen King’s IT is well executed but a little anodyne

PUBLISHED: 12:13 08 September 2017 | UPDATED: 12:21 08 September 2017

Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in IT. Photo: Warner Bros/Brooke Palmer

Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in IT. Photo: Warner Bros/Brooke Palmer

© 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and RatPac-Dune Entertainment LLC All Rights Reserved

The horror writer’s disturbing 1986 novel finally materialises on the big screen directed by Andy Muschietti focussing on the stories of children whose lives are scarred by a malevolent presence taken form as a Clown called Pennywise.

Wyatt Oleff as Stanley Uris, Finn Wolhard as Richie Tozier, Chosen Jacobs as Mike Hanlon, Jaeden Lieberher as Bill Denbrough, Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh and Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hanscom. Photo: Warner Bros/Brooke Palmer Wyatt Oleff as Stanley Uris, Finn Wolhard as Richie Tozier, Chosen Jacobs as Mike Hanlon, Jaeden Lieberher as Bill Denbrough, Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh and Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hanscom. Photo: Warner Bros/Brooke Palmer

IT (15)

****

Warner Brother’s marketing for IT has helped turn this adaptation of an old Stephen King doorstopper into something of a cultural phenomenon, set to be one of the biggest horror movies of recent times.

Its poster – an exclamation mark made up of a yellow coated child victim and a red balloon, with the logo “you’ll float too” - is almost indecently chilling. Well, they certainly hooked me in.

Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in IT. Photo: Warner Bros/Marco Grob Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in IT. Photo: Warner Bros/Marco Grob

Andres Muchchietti’s film is a crowd pleasing, well executed adaptation, but maybe just a little anodyne, even nice. Certainly this wuss was able to sit through it without distress or alarm. It reminds of the days when people used to say that Stephen King books didn’t make for good films.

What soon becomes apparent is that this is not going to tap into the contemporary unease of the whole ‘Creepy Clown’ craze, but will invite us on a cosy trip back to the 1980s. The film on at the local cinema is the first Michael Keaton Batman, but this is a cinematic landscape dominated by early Spielberg.

It is two films in one. Mostly we are engaged with a hoping-to-come-of-age tale in which a group of bullied outsider kids, come together over the summer vacation in the small town of Derry (pronounced Dairy) to stand up to psychotic bullies and their demented parents. Oh, and fight against a shape shifting, child killing thing that often takes the form of clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård.)

So it is like a Stand By Me remake, interrupted at regular intervals by stylish horror set pieces. I liked the kids, and liked the horror bits; but I wasn’t ever truly convinced the two really belonged together.

Stephen King's disturbing 1986 novel IT materialises on the big screen directed by Andy Muschietti. Photo: Warner Bros/Brooke Palmer Stephen King's disturbing 1986 novel IT materialises on the big screen directed by Andy Muschietti. Photo: Warner Bros/Brooke Palmer

The poster is so effective, so squirming unpleasant, because it suggest something that will defile innocence, cross the line. These kids are all having really crappy childhoods being saddled with paedophile fathers, psychotic bullies, stammers, morbid obesity etc, but in the film there is an innocent glow which seems to protect them. Technically, they are going through an horrendous ordeal, but in many ways they are having a wail of a time. And those big horror set pieces that punctuate the tale are like the big showstopping numbers in a musical; impressive and entertaining but when they stop it’s like everybody goes back to normal, untouched by the experience.

The It in IT is so called because It is undefined, we don’t know its parameters. This is clever in as much as it allows author and filmmaker plenty of leeway to create audacious and elaborate scenes for it. But what we do know is that its primary purpose is to kill children: so why doesn’t it just get on with it?

King included the notion that it feeds on fear as a get out for this but it narks me when the menace in a horror film is more concerned with how it looks then actually being a menace.

It is a showboating demon, constantly performing unnecessary keepy uppy tricks to show off just how very very clever it is. But if IT isn’t going to take this seriously, why should I?

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