In only two weeks, It has become one of the most successful horror movies of all time. The film has already broken the record for a September opening and is currently the third highest grossing horror movie in history (223 million) after The Exorcist (232 million) and The Sixth Sense (293 million). But why? What is it about this movie at this time that has made it a huge hit?
This is the easiest one. The trailers were scary but also did a lot to show the film’s cinematic merit with sweeping aerial shots of Derry and a picture-perfect recreation of the past. The film doesn’t look cheap like so many other horror films do. The trailer also had all the right beats for scares with all the right stings and music cues. I see trailers these days as short films and as short films go this one was effective and fun.
2. Youth and Nostalgia
As people get older, they fondly remember their youth. They block out all the things that sucked about being a kid and remember their favorite movies (The Goonies, Stand By Me) and books (anything by Stephen King). Tie that together and you have a film that’s easy to sell. Especially when the market is flooded with nostalgia pieces; Stranger Things, remakes/reboots of Star Wars and Ghostbusters, that episode of Black Mirror everyone talks about set in the 80s. And only in this day and age could a film like Ready Player One get made.
It has the charm of the 80s combined with being an adaptation of a classic book from the 80s (despite originally being set in the 50s) with an original mini-series made at the end of the 80s (technically 1990). And you know what, a lot of adults today first experienced that… interesting mini-series when they were young. It was a coming age story for many kids coming of age and the same could be said for the new It.
Throughout history, mankind has feared these painted faced goons. So having a clown as your antagonist is an easy target for horror. Add to the fact there has been a rash of creepy clown sightings over the last few years and you have a universal fear that has remained relevant within the public consciousness. A clown by itself would have made this movie a hit but only when you combine it with my previous two points does a hit become a monster hit.
As for the movie, I don’t know what to say, this creepy clown has been following me for a long time now. I started reading, or rather listening, to Stephen King’s It on Audible back in February. If you want to know how long it takes to listen to a 1000+ page book on audiobook I can tell you it’s 44 hours. Or in my case 7 months. Though I have learned Steven Webber is the greatest actor in history—I’ll never watch Wings the same way again.
I can also tell you It is a book written by a mad genius. King is a genius in his ability to world build with likable characters who endure endlessly imaginative horror. He’s also mad because the book is over 1000 pages long, has an inter-dimensional space turtle and a pre-teen gang bang. Other than that the book is a fun summer read.
How do all these elements equal a good movie? In the case of the 1990 mini-series, it doesn’t. So there was a lot working against Andy Muschietti’s version. The film suffered a lengthy pre-production process which resulted in the film’s original writer/director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, Beasts of No Nation) leaving the project over disagreements with the studio. Not to mention Muschietti is still a fresh face to many. I enjoyed his debut film Mama, but I can understand the reluctance in his ability to handle a project of this scope.
Let’s not forget the ravenous King fans ready to tear into whoever changes one comma from a book they’ve loved for over thirty years. I can already picture Muschietti in some kind of Misery situation with an irate fan. Dirty Birdie.
But Hi Oh Silver! (book reference) He did it! Everybody did it! It is one of the most entertaining moviegoing experiences of the year. From the minute the film started I knew I was in safe hands with wide, hanging shots of the rain-soaked neighborhoods of Derry. This accompanied by a haunting score from Benjamin Wallfisch and flawless cinematography from Chung-hoon Chung of Oldboy fame. A lot of people will mention Spielberg and I think that’s true in moments. How can you not think of E.T. anytime a bunch of kids peddle their bikes towards adventure… or peril?
The biggest surprise of It is how much stronger the film works as a coming of age film than a horror movie. The film is like a horror movie within another kind of movie, like the cookie and caramel inners to a Twix bar. I believe the best movies defy genre and this film does so often. The performances help quite a bit as well. Particularly Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozier and Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh. All the kids are believable and relatable, even if a few are thrown to the side from time to time. Stan and Mike are a blur but details will get lost in translation when adapting a phonebook of a novel.
Honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of the novel. I had respect for the characters and dialogue and the town history, but there’s a lot I don’t understand. “Why does Pennywise the Dancing Clown troll when he could be chowing down on these kids? Aren’t they most scared when they first meet him?” I’d like to say the film solves these issues but it doesn’t. For as creepy as he is Pennywise makes no sense. This leads to numerous scares where he slinks away for no reason. The scares are always well constructed there’s just a lot of them that end the same for no justifiable reason.
Another complication is having to tell a complete story while covering so much from the book. You don’t want to piss off any die-hard fans but you also don’t want it to hinder your film’s structure. For the most part, the film floats evenly—ha, see what I did there?— but it does fall into issues with repetition and pace from time to time.
Repetition issues stem from the characters initial encounters with Pennywise falling back to back. I understand you have to build a relationship with each kid and their fear of Pennywise but it’s hard to make each set piece feel unique to each character. Pacing issues have to do with stripping down certain scenes to cover as much ground as possible and this isn’t a short film.
But aside from my last few comments, I loved this movie. I’m a huge horror fan but I think I appreciate the film far more as a coming of age summer blockbuster. Again, The Goonies and Stand By Me are the best comparisons. The clown stuff is great but it’s more the icing than the cake. My only worry about Chapter Two is that we’ll lose those character relationships. Then again they could surprise me. They did this time. Beep, Beep (book and film reference).