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The IT Fantastic

IT the novel sits in a strange place for me. When I randomly think about these things I will often say that IT would be in my list of top 5 novels. This in itself is an oddity as I find it very hard to do such lists, but it is very true that IT had a great influence on me.

Not that I remember much of the detail now. Yeah, as I said, it’s weird.

It’s safe to say, my love of small town, teenage dramas is largely influenced by IT as it is a bit of an opus in this regard, even covering the story from the perspective of those teenagers as adults.

My distance from the novel, mixed with my attachment to it, meant I really wanted the film of IT to be great. I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s Beautiful, Funny and Horrific

“Derry is not like any town I’ve been in before. People die or disappear, six times the national average. And that’s just grown ups. Kids are worse. Way, way worse.”

– Bill Hanscom

Anyone who has encountered my views on films before will know I’m not a big fan of most modern films. I tend to like films that have the sensibilities of older films. This is why I liked Wonder Woman. IT is very much like one of those films. It doesn’t feel like a modern film in its genre, it feels very much a classic film of yesteryear.

IT does something it seems only older films can handle: it combines the beauty of a situation, along with the humour and the horror.

IT is beautiful in almost every way. The scenes are beautiful in how they play out. The realisation of the small town America scenes are also a joy to behold. The moments The Losers’ Club share in the countryside round Derry are lovingly done in terms of scenery and the character dynamics. The relationships between the characters, specifically Bill and Beverley are enthralling. Even the horrific moments with Pennywise have an artistic beauty to them that makes them more scary and unsettling.

It’s one of those films that transcends the elements of its construction and it’s just beautiful in every moment. This means you just watch every moment entranced.

“These [pills] are gazebos! They’re bullshit!”
– Eddie Kaspbrak

Surprisingly, and I don’t know why it was surprising, the film is genuinely funny. The humour manifests through the interplay of The Losers’ Club and the script does this deftly and effectively. There was many points in IT where the theatre laughed out loud. IT is a better comedy than many a traditionally constructed comedy. This adds to the horror of the whole experience as The Losers’ Club come to depend on each other, and the humour is part of that, in order to survive the horror of Derry.

This is a horror film with genuinely funny, quotable lines.

The Loser’s Club

The overall beauty of IT aside, the film is sold on how The Losers’ Club and Pennywise are delivered on screen. We’ll come to Pennywise later, for The Losers’ Club are amazing.

It comes down to script and casting. The casting is genius as you accept each of the kids and take them into your hearts completely. Bill the serious one, older than his years, haunted by the loss of his brother. Beverley with an abusive father dealing with her early awareness of her sexuality. Richie the wise ass. Eddie the hypochondriac and so on. The choice of actors you don’t recognise from a legion of others films and TV shows works perfectly in this case. They all add something to the team and you care about them all. It is Bill, Beverely, Richie and Eddie that stand out though.

If there is one stand out actor in the crowd it is Sophia Lillis. She is going to come out of it as a rising star. She just rose above the rest of The Losers’ Club. This is partly how her part is filmed, as she is sort of presented in the way the boys see her half the time, which has an elevated reality, she also has some of the more intense issues to deal with in terms of her abusive father, but this does not take away from her excellent performance.

“Now I have to kill this fucking clown!”
– Richie Tozier

The pivotal scene that cemented how brilliantly The Losers’ Club worked? The speech at the end by Richie Tozier, when he finally sums up what Bill has got him into, as the confrontation with Pennywise reaches its final stage, but decides to stick with The Losers’ Club anyway, has all the hallmarks of cheese and eye rolling but the film sold it. It got a laugh. It got cheers. Despite all that it did not distract from the inherent horror of the scene playing out. That is the brilliance of The Losers’ Club and pretty much sums up the brilliance of IT.

There is one problem with The Losers’ Club, they moved some of the roles in the club around which has resulted in the black kid being the one who doesn’t really serve any purpose. In the book, Mike Hanlon, the black kid, was the research expert. In the film it is Ben. This left Mike with no real purpose other than to be the late joining, token black kid. This was disappointing.

Pennywise Is Fantastic

I’ll be honest. He comes across odd at first. I’m not sure the entire theatre was convinced by the scene of Pennwise talking to Georgie. I don’t think that’s because it’s a bad scene, it’s purely because it comes so early in the film and instantly puts Pennywise front and centre. This film doesn’t build to Pennywise with slight of hand. You have to process the full Pennywise and then recover from that over time. This is a journey you take even after the film has ended, only understanding the full power of how Pennywise is realised after you’ve processed it half a day later.

They brilliance of the character is he never felt like an omnipotent villain but one very much constrained by who he was. He seemed to be partly that dancing clown, a being still bound to the need to entertain albeit in a fashion designed to unnerve and strike fear into his victims. He also got frustrated when things did not go his way, which made him feel more grounded and even scarier. Horror films often make their supernatural elements so ‘out there’ and ‘disconnected from reality’ that they are hard to connect with so you’re left with just the jump scenes and the violence. You felt connected to Pennywise enough to make him more sinister.

Pennywise is brilliant in this film and the whole fabric of the film contributes to this, including the performance.

The final brilliance of Pennywise? He stays what he is. The enemy. The other. Given just enough screen time to be effective and drive forward the stories of the true main characters: the Losers’ Club. Somehow, the film paints a picture of a sinister and horrific supernatural enemy that taints a whole town and yet it feels right it’s a group of 13 year old kids that beat him. Like it could not have resolved any other way.

It’s Not A Horror Film?

I’ve heard this said in a couple of written reviews and on at least two Youtube channels. This is annoying, for two reasons.

The first reason is IT is seen as not being a horror film because it is being compared to the ‘modern’ horror film experience which swaps in film-making patterns designed to induce shocks, what have become motifs signalling spooky and, in some cases gore, for good, old traditional storytelling. IT does not manifest as a horror film compared to many recent, traditional fare.

The second reason is IT is a very good film and there is nothing like a film being good to have people trying to ‘elevate’ it out of its genre roots. This happens all the time. You see it often with science fiction films, if it isn’t puerile ray gun and aliens then it’s not a science fiction film. Similarly, great horror films are called psychological thrillers. The best example of this is Black Swan, it follows many traditional and tired horror staples, but since it’s seen as good in terms of its script, acting and direction it’s not a horror film. It is, very traditionally so.

IT is a horror film. It’s just not one in the current, traditional mode. It won’t have you feeling uncomfortable waiting for the next thing to jump out at you, neither will it have you unsettled and looking over your shoulder as you travel home from the cinema.

It is instead like a nightmare you wake up from and find it lingering around in the back of your brain for days after.

The Middle Finger to Torture Porn

IT is brutal. It’s just brutal in a different way to the torture porn that used to be all the rage. The blood, guts and visceral violence in IT is relatively light compared to films like Saw and Hostel but what it does show works a lot better.

The key issue to remember is this: IT is about physical and psychological violence against children and it gets away with it.

The physical violence is pulled off by making it brutal, but short and not that bloody and visceral. One of the key scenes, when Georgie’s arm is removed by Pennywise, is shown. Indeed, we get a very artistic long shot of a child crawling across a rain slick road with his arm removed and the blood flowing out. It’s done in such an artistic way it allows you accept what you are seeing without being overly grossed out.

It’s very clever.

There is a lot of psychological violence in IT. At least three of the Losers’ Club are in psychologically damaging relationships with their parents or guardians (every character for who we see ‘parent’s). This is pulled off brilliantly because the abuse isn’t the focus but how the Losers’ Club involved change and rise above it.

In short, it’s present and it’s horrible, but the right focus and time is spent on it so it feels like an essential part of The Losers’ Clubs growth.

The Cutting Knife

I can no longer be said to be an expert on the IT novel. It’s could be close to thirty years since I read it. It is obvious changes have been made though.

The biggest change is the structure of the story. In the novel the story of the children and the adults is told in parallel as the adults return to Derry having forgotten what happened when they were kids. In the case of the films the stories are being told chronologically. It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out.

A potential big change, which might impact the second film more than the this one, is the degree to which the film goes into the Cthulhu Mythos aspects of the novel. In the book, IT is actually a creature from another dimension in a ‘Man Was Not Meant To Know’ style and the various ways the creature manifests are the minds of men trying to understand it. It all gets a bit weird and ‘out there’. It’ll be interesting to see how deeply the film delves into this rather than keeping to the more traditional feel of Pennywise in the first film.

I feel they will change it a lot, which would be a good thing. After all, I think the books have the nemesis of the creature being some sort of dimensional turtle or something? Memory is vague. They need to keep the more grounded feel, rather than turning Pennywise into something so surreal that the audience disconnects from IT (sorry, couldn’t help it). The ‘Outer God’ sort of take is much easier to do in books than it is in film.

I often say I’ve never read a Cthulhu Mythos book, but I sort of have and that book was IT

…And, Finally

Everyone should watch IT. It’s one of those films that does transcend its genre and is just a classic film everyone should see. It’s very good. In a way it’s become a bit like the book for me. A defining point in cinema, specifically the cinematic history of horror films, that will be an anchor point for how such films are made in the future.

Or possibly not, maybe the genre will just ignore it and continue on.

Either way, you need to see it. Every so often a film comes along that just gets everything right and layers that together perfectly. IT is one of those film. Even if that doesn’t appeal then, like some people in the theatre I was in, you can go see it as the closest thing to a Stranger Things film that currently exists in the cinema.

Yes, the irony was palpable.

About Ian O'Rourke

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