“Would you like a balloon?” a seemingly innocuous question made terrifying by a book released over 20 years ago. Stephen King’s It has been making people afraid of clowns and red balloons for two decades. Ask anyone the scariest clown movie they have ever seen, I guarantee your most popular answer will be “It” They of course would be talking about the 1990 made-for-TV movie starring the infamous Tim Curry. It has been a common misconception from the announcement of this film that it is a remake of the original. This is not the case. It is actually based on the novel. A refreshing notion. I have been patiently waiting for this film for over a year. Last night, my waiting had paid off and I settled into my IMAX movie seat ready for my heart to pound and the chills to wash over me. While this film has so many great moments, it failed to capture the true horror of Stephen King’s novel and wasted some big opportunities.
Derry, Maine is like any small town. Or is it. Children are beginning to disappear at an alarming rate. After Bill Denbrough’s (Jaeden Lieberher) little brother Georgie joins the missing, Bill bands together with some neighborhood kids to battle the monster that is the sum of all their fears. I have to say, these kids impressed the hell out of me. All of them did a bang up job in their respective rolls. If they are this awesome in their early teens, I cannot wait to see what they will do as adults. Lieberher and Finn Wolfhard (the kid from Stranger Things) who plays Ritchie Tozier were truly the standouts in the pack. They were funny, genuine but still vulnerable. The unresolved feelings Bill has about his brother’s disappearance are palpable and his reconciliation is heartbreaking. The performance that really made this film was Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise. The man had a lot to live up to and he really made the performance his own. Everything about him was on point. His voice, his eyes, his expressions all combined to make a monster that people will be talking about for years to come. So where did “It” go wrong? Director Andy Muschietti had an opportunity to push the envelope and make a truly terrifying and disturbing piece of cinema and he didn’t. When a horror movie is rated R, I expect rated R violence. This was at best, PG-13. I feel, because there were children involved, the truly horrifying and disturbing aspects of this story were severely downplayed. If the entire movie would have been as violent and intense as the opening scene, this film would have been unstoppable. This is the problem we come across time and time again in modern horror cinema. Everything is safe. In recent years I have seen very few horror movie directors take things to the extreme. I would have liked to see this movie go there and instead it felt like it was being held back. As Rob Zombie once said “Art is not safe.” This film felt far too safe for my liking.
Stephen King’s It is feast for the senses. The visuals are beautiful and the score and sound design are hair raising on their own. The feeling of looming terror peppered with humor and heart is something that is not easily done and it was executed perfectly. I have always felt that this story is about the loss of innocence. As a kid, you know there are things that you are afraid of and that can hurt you but they are only ever really in your nightmares. Articulating the things you fear somehow makes them more real and as you grow up you will come face to face with them. This is a coming of age horror that is creepy and intense but in the end, leaves you wanting. With a sequel already in the works there is a chance that it can be everything this movie was supposed to be. “It” is here to strike fear into a new generation of movie goers and remind those old dogs like myself why you should never walk too close to a storm drain and that the shadows of our childhood fears are still alive and well.