Clowns look pretty freaky, right? I remember feeling quite unnerved by them in my younger days, yet as I got older, clowns intimidated me less. To be frank, clowns land more along the lines of “creepy” rather than scary, unlike real unmasked people who could hurt you.
It’s familiar opening scene captures that true scariness: an unsupervised small boy takes a paper boat out on a rainy day, which falls down the sewer drain. A clown peers his head up from below the darkness, his appearance throwing the boy off guard. He displays unusual kindness to the boy, returning to him the lost paper boat. Then suddenly, the predator chews the boy’s arm off, and a God’s eye view looks down on his poor defenseless body flowing into the drain, a truly disturbing sight in this otherwise misguided adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel.
Now, I understand the movie’s current rave, as It now stands at 90% on RottenTomatoes, and YouTube celebrity Chris Stuckmann gave It an A-, but I for one differ from the public opinion.
Although the critical praise does speak some truth; each preteen we meet goes through change in some way. The sewer-bound kid’s stuttering brother, Bill, is shunned by everybody, and his friends each face their personal growing pains too. Eddie is forced against his will to keep taking meds, Richie resents whatever his friends tell him to do, and Stanley refuses to pursue his family’s Jewish beliefs. Other friends they make include a Black farmer boy, Mike, who must kill sheep for his heartless father, Ben, an overweight new kid who needs friends outside of the books, and Beverly, a gorgeous flame-haired drug addict. Her father creates by far the creepiest moments, as he sniffs her hair like some sex offender. The horror should stem from places like here, the common fears every teenager shares.
Instead, the inexperienced director, Andy Muschietti, abused Dutch angles and motion sickness while filming the “scary” moments. He followed the common misconception that low lighting adds to the fright, which in actuality hurt the thrill here since you now cannot tell what is supposed to scare you. Think about some of the most iconic shots in horror: The shower scene in Psycho, the twins in The Shining, Jack Nicholson in the same movie shouting “Here’s Johnny!”, or even in the original It when Pennywise pops out from beneath the pale-tinted shower. Notice a theme? These images are each evenly lit, anything hidden in the shadows contrasting against something else to fear. Truly effective horror fills in the unknown blanks based on what you think you already see. Maybe if Muschietti utilized real fears, such as a community’s religious state, other than clichés, and knew how to stage them, then these scares could leave a longer impression to the extent of The Exorcist.
The scares particularly fail more due to the atrocious casting of the child actors. Whenever the kids were supposed to act afraid, they just stared blankly and walked stiltly. Even outside the scary scenes, the kids either talked too fast or too slow while screaming their lines when supposed to act angry. Based on speculation, these annoying kids obviously achieved their chemistry by following tape marks and cue cards with the direction, “Just say your lines and go home.”
These kids’ stories also lack any structural balance. The brother-to-brother bond initiated right at the start gets forgotten across a large portion, especially at the very last scene; and Stanley’s Jewish struggles loses any footing with little to do compared to the stronger treatment of his friends. As for the bullies, their interesting backstories receive an undeservingly low amount of screen time, instead existing more for lazy predictable scenarios we’ve seen countless times.
Very little fear strikes your nerve in these moments, as you can never empathize with these kids’ foul-mouthed tendencies. Rather than showing the hard reality of growing up, the kids celebrate their hatred against the oppressors. It even attempts to beautify the one female preteen, Beverly, as much as possible, as she jumps into a lake wearing only her underwear, then lets her new boyfriends gawk at her body as she naps in their eyesight. Then in another dialogue played only for laughs, a pharmacist, who she says looks like Clark Kent, comments her back, saying she looks like Lois Lane! Honestly, the whole beautification of her character made me feel pedophilic myself.
I read several reports that the clowning industry has suffered because of It, promoting coulrophobia, I find this hard to believe. It does not feed off coulrophobia, but rather anthropophobia, particularly predatorial parents. No wonder the Alamo Drafthouse theaters in Austin and Brooklyn hosted all-clown screenings, since clearly, we might as well root for the demonic circus act to win!
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
Fredette, Meagan. “Are You Brave Enough To Attend A Clown Only Screening Of IT?.” Refinery29. 25 Aug 2017. Web. <http://www.refinery29.com/2017/08/169736/clown-only-screening-it-movie>.
“It (2017).” RottenTomatoes. Fandango. Web. <https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/it_2017>.
It the Movie. Tumblr. Web. <http://itthemovie.com/>.
Stuckmann, Chris. “It - Movie Review.” Video. YouTube. 6 Sept 2017. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjMTqZA6un8&t=321s>.
West, Amy. “It movie: Real-life clowns are slamming new Stephen King adaptation for 'ruining' their business.” Digital image. IB Times. 6 Apr 2017. Web. <http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/it-movie-real-life-clowns-are-slamming-new-stephen-king-adaptation-ruining-their-business-1615700>.
Zhang, Michael. “The Dutch Angle: Tilting the Camera for Dramatic Effect.” Digital image. PetaPixel. 12 May 2016. Web. <https://petapixel.com/2016/05/12/dutch-angle-tilting-camera-dramatic-effect/>.