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It Fails to Fulfill Its Namesake

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Nothing ever appears as terrifying on screen as it does in our minds when we are alone with a novel.

Stephen King’s latest book-to-screen adaptation, It, directed by Andres Muschietti, is based on the unsettling 1,300-page epic published in 1986. But the movie fails to live up to the novel and, quite frankly, is not very frightening.

Rather, the film is a fairly pleasurable experience; the development of the main characters, referred to affectionately as the “Losers Club,” is both heartwarming and entertaining. Although the film does contain a number of intense scenes, the fear factor is a let-down when compared to the abject terror of the book.

When it comes to adapting King’s longer novels, matching his tone is vital. Along with his ability to depict our bleakest fears, King is especially adept at locking on to our inane anxieties and imperfections. Rather than just display terrifying material, he dares us to question our own values and contemplate why the material is so incredibly frightening to us.

The movie seems promising at its beginning. The opening sequence is indisputably unnerving and executed with alarming precision. This is the first time we see Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and so we start to wonder if we are in the midst of a cinematic masterpiece.

Nevertheless, the novelty wears off, and, by the fifteenth time we see Pennywise, the gripping cinematography that had provoked fear earlier is replaced by trite jump scares and the special effects that have become commonplace in today’s horror genre. However, when these cliché horror techniques are avoided, and the camera chooses to shine more on Pennywise and his menacing eyes, we can at least appreciate a truly remarkable performance by Bill Skarsgård.

I want to stress that It is by no means a bad film. The movie is adequately enjoyable and displays flashes of brilliance throughout. Where it falls flat is that the adaption never pieces itself together like the book was able to. If Muschietti (who also directed the underwhelming horror thriller Mama) had been able to steer clear of the boring elements that seem to plague most modern horror films and instead focused on evoking King’s terrifying tone from the novel, It could have been one of the best cinematic experiences of the decade. But it seems that it wasn’t in the cards.

The content of Stephen King’s books often deals with our inner demons, which is what makes adapting King’s stories to the silver screen a convoluted task. This has been done remarkably well in movies such as the The Shining or Carrie, both masterpieces that beautifully capture the limitless layers of detail and nuance of their source material. It was that finesse, or rather the lack thereof, that ultimately made It an unsatisfying film.

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