IT: Worth seeing despite its problems

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(Warning: Spoilers Ahead.)

We went to see the much hyped remake of IT on Monday night. After my post last week about how movies and television that trade on nostalgia often gloss over the not so good about the good old days, I was pleased to see this film's more realistic portrayal of the 80s. E.g. the bullies are properly homophobic and one of the characters makes reference to AIDS hysteria. It’s ugly, and it’s real.

The most disappointing aspect of the film was its treatment of Beverly Marsh, the one female protagonist. For a thorough run-down of the film's unfeminist shortcomings, I would refer you to Laura Bradley's review for Vanity Fair, or E. Alex Jung's discussion in Vulture. The gist of it is that despite a few triumphant moments, Bev is actually less empowered in the remake than she was in the 1990 miniseries. Instead of letting her be the slingshot sharpshooter who does Pennywise in, the remake casts her as a damsel-in-distress who needs the boys to come rescue her.

In fact, she's not just any damsel, but Sleeping Beauty, rendered catatonic by Pennywise until one of the boys--Ben--kisses her to break the spell. So you've got a character whose biggest problem is unwanted sexual attention, and saving her means kissing her while she's unconscious--aka sexual assault? I get that it's dire circumstances, and it's 1989, and we're talking about a bunch of unworldly kids here. Also, this kiss itself is about as chaste as a kiss on the lips can get. It's just philosophically and symbolically a bad idea, and it's completely unoriginal. The writers could have sidestepped this whole problem by not turning Bev into Sleeping Beauty in the first place.

A less socially important problem I had with the film was how unprepared the kids were when they first went into Pennywise's lair. They bring no weapons! I was their age in 1989, and my friends and I were well acquainted with the action/horror titles on offer at our local video store--including Lost Boys which came out two years earlier. We had seen countless variations on the "gearing up for battle" montage. If we had gone looking for Pennywise, we would have had baseball bats and knives and probably some ninja stars and a whip and a few M-80s for good measure.

Monster killing role models: the Frog Brothers, circa 1987

Monster killing role models: the Frog Brothers, circa 1987

Maybe the disconnect comes from the source material. I’ve never read IT, but I know that in Stephen King’s original novel, the flashback chapters span the years 1957-58. The ranks of cinematic child heroes were thinner then. Maybe kids of that era just hadn’t been primed to go Rambo in quite the same way, and King’s novel reflected that. But in adapting the book to a later time, the re-makers should have taken these things into account.

Yes, one might argue that if they’d had better weapons, they’d have felt less vulnerable to viewers, thus undercutting the dread and the horror. I don’t think so. A kid with a baseball and a hunting knife is still just a kid—going up against a monster who can warp the laws of reality and take advantage of your own nightmares. Having Pennywise easily disarm the Loser’s Club would have increased the horror and—as a bonus—completely subverted the kid-commando trope that should have inspired them to gear up in the first place.

Despite its missteps, the updated IT was still a thoroughly entertaining film. The production values put the miniseries to shame, and pretty much everyone in the cast delivers a spot-on performance. Bill Skarsgard's portrayal of Pennywise turns the creepy up to eleven. In fact, it almost strains credulity that hapless Georgie doesn't run screaming the second he sees that drooling freak in the storm drain.

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Uh, fuck no. 

The non-supernatural monsters are as disturbing, if not more so, than Pennywise himself, and it was super satisfying to see the heroes take them on. There was actually clapping in the theater when Bev knocked her lecherous father unconscious.

I don't watch a ton of horror movies, but one of the most popular formulas has the protagonist make one fatal mistake in the beginning, and from that point on, they're pretty much screwed. You went to the wrong cabin, bought the wrong house, watched the wrong video, said the wrong magic words, etc., and now you're going to spend the rest of your short life running in terror until you die horribly.

IT on the other hand offers some hope for the heroes. There's a great evil in town, but if you and your pals face it together, you might just survive. You might save your friends. You might even vanquish the monster once and for all, though we won't know for sure until the sequel. After seeing chapter one, I am definitely looking forward to that. 

What did you think?