Movie Review: It (2017)
Stephen King must’ve had one fucked-up childhood.
It’s not just the malevolent forces he conjures—his bread and butter—but the small-town bullies. They’re not exactly the kind to give you noogies and move on. They will literally cut you, or knock you unconscious, or, hell, kill you. His good kids, the nerdy kids like us, not only live in a world without rule of law but without any parental authority whatsoever—where every parent, every single one, is worth zero. Less than zero. There are no adults in the room. The kids have to be the adults in the room.
You get a sense of this right away. When Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) wants to go outside and play with a paper boat in the rain—like all kids did in the ’80s—and his big brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher of “St. Vincent” and “Midnight Special”) can’t join him because of a cold, it’s Bill who stands worried by the window as Georgie goes splashing off. The mother that normally does this? She’s downstairs playing ominous music on the piano. (“Thanks, Mom!”) And when Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgaard), the malevolent spirit of Derry, Maine, who feeds on the fear of children, makes his appearance in the sewer, tempting Georgie, we cut to a woman on her porch, hanging out. Watching maybe? For a moment we think, “At the last minute, she’ll say something, or paddle over, and Georgie will be saved.” Nope. Chomp, scream, drag. And the woman simply watches the blood on the street drain away.
In fact, halfway through, I thought that was the point of Pennywise. He’s ... parental absence. Or created out of parental awfulness. Just go down the list. No adult does anything right:
- Eight months after Georgie goes missing, Bill is still trying to find him; but Bill’s dad yells at his son that Georgie is dead. DEAD.
- Mike’s parents are dead, killed in a fire before the movie began. So he stays with his uncle, who forces him to shoot livestock in the forehead with an airgun.
- Eddie’s mom makes her son a hypochondriac.
- The local cop is the son of the chief teenage bully, Henry (Nicholas Hamilton of “Captain Fantastic”), whom he bullies. That’s where Henry learned it in the first place.
- The local pharmacist flirts creepily with Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a 14-year-old girl.
- Beverly’s dad tries to rape her.
When Henry carves an H into the belly of Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor, quite good), the other kids don’t take him to the hospital; they fix it themselves. After they discover where Pennywise lives, they tell no adult. Maybe there’s no adult to tell. These kids are forever navigating a world between teenage bullies, horrible grown-ups, and a malevolent evil spirit that appears in Derry every 27 years. It’s a wonder they all don’t stutter.
Casting for adults
A lot of loose ends here. I never really understood Derry’s original sin that led to the creation of Pennywise. Something about a well?
More, the whole adventure leads to a dilapidated mansion/crack house on the edge of Derry, which was built around that well. The kids, the self-styled Losers Club, rappel to its bottom and walk through a tunnel where they discover this garbage dump of childhood (toys, etc.) ascending upwards, and, around it, floating in space, the bodies and/or souls of the missing children. They’re just hanging there. It’s like an aria; it’s almost beautiful. And when Pennywise is finally defeated, those bodies begin to descend. The kids talk about it. I thought maybe the missing kids would come back to life the way Beverly did—pulled down and awakened, fairy tale-like, with a kiss from her secret admirer, Ben. But they don’t. Or, more to the point, we don’t see what happens. They say, “Hey look, they’re coming down,” and then we’re just outside and the Losers Club makes a pact amongst themselves about returning in 27 years if they need to. (And they’ll need to. This one broke all September box-office records.)
So maybe all those bodies just crumpled on the ground? Or disappeared? Shouldn’t someone tell the cops they can close some missing persons files? Or is Henry’s dad the only cop in town, and at that point he’s, what, lying in his easy chair covered in his own sticky blood.
And yeah, what about Beverly’s dad? Also dead. Is there going to be an investigation? Can everyone just get away with murder in Maine?
(BTW: For a crack house, it doesn’t have many crack addicts. OR any. Or did Pennywise take them, too?)
The movie is genuinely scary (to me anyway), and keeps upping the ante. At first, Pennywise is an outside force. He appears in the dark. Then he starts appearing outside during the day. Then in your basement, then in your bathroom, then seemingly any old where at any old time.
I liked the kids—the camaraderie and the tensions between them. They fit archetypes but not completely. The brave one, Bill, looks like the nerdy kid in “Stand By Me,” Wil Wheaton, rather than that movie’s more traditional-looking brave kid, River Phoenix. Finn Wolfhard goes from nerdy lead in “Stranger Things” to, here, Richie, the mouthy, profane Jewish comic relief—a budding Lenny Bruce. The other Jewish kid, Stanley (Wyatt Olef), is more quiet, and the first to abandon the team. He’s not much, to be honest. Neither is Mike, the black kid. He’s just “the black kid.” But Jeremy Ray Taylor transcends the fat-kid role. He’s got secrets, and an inner toughness, and an inner self-worth that makes romance with Beverly seem plausible. To him. Would've been interesting if the movie allowed it.
In the novel, the terror spree and formation of the Losers Club was set in 1957-58—back when kids did play with paper boats in the rain, and white bullies told black kids to leave town. The ’80s was for the adult Losers. Now that’ll be 2016-17, and there’s already speculation on which actors will play the 40-something versions. To me, you’d be nuts not to offer Beverly to Amy Adams, since Sophia Lillis is already a dead ringer. Would Wil Wheaton make a good Bill? Is David Schwimmer too buttoned-up for Richie? I also wouldn’t mind some fun, original casting. Henry Cavill for Ben, for example. But then I haven’t read the novel. I don’t know what they’re supposed to become.
Or what Pennywise might become in the digital age? Does he have a website? Can he hypnotize you with a gif file? If he lives off fear, if it’s like “salting the meat” for him, then appearing in the Trump era should be quite the feast.