The September 7, 2017, Brooklyn Paranormal Society Meetup at the House of Wax Investigation/ It Movie Screening was certainly an auspicious gathering. For starters, we hit 666 members. Interpret the number as you wish. Wether of good or bad portent, it is undoubtedly a strong showing, and apt indicator of the public’s thirst for the paranormal. The truth is out there, as they say, and we have the EMF meters to help investigate it. The turnout was prodigious as well. 88 members showed up at the House of Wax to eat, drink, hunt ghosts and, to check out the New York premiere of It – director Andy Muschietti’s slick adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name.
Let’s talk about It for a bit. The film is set in the late 1980s in the idyllic town of Derry, Maine. Not all is as it seems on the surface. Turns out the town is haunted by a shape-shifting clown who goes by the name of Pennywise. Sporting multiple sets of incisors that would make a great white blush, Pennywise lives in the sewers beneath Derry and has a penchant for killing children. In other words, typical clown behavior.
Derry, Maine, as King has admitted, is a stand-in for Bangor, Maine, where King has lived for almost 40 years. For all practical purposes though, Derry serves well as stand-in for Everywhere, USA. So be wary. In this town, adults are null and void, if they are not outright evil. This leaves our protagonists – a group of seven self-proclaimed “Losers Club” misfits – to do battle with Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard).
Each member of the Losers Club is haunted by his, or her own, manifestation of Pennywise – custom made per individual’s innate fears. Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), for example, is a hypochondriac, who lives in fear of catching a staph infection. As a result, he is haunted by a leper who spews venomous bile all over his face. Tasty. Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) is haunted by screaming burned people. It turns out his own parents died in a fire. Ritchie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), conveniently enough, is scared of clowns.
All the children in the group share one thing in common – a troubled family life. Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberherher) is ignored by his parents because they can’t get over the loss of their son Georgie. Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff) has a mean religious fanatic for a father. Beverly Marsh is sexually abused by her father. Eddie’s mother is overprotective and feeds him placebos. Like a moth to a flame, Pennywise is drawn to these troubled preteens, feeding off their fears. In exchange for their troubles, the killer clown offers cold solace, promising “When you’re down here with me, you’ll float, too.”
It is a foray, both literal and figurative, into society’s “sewers.” This is not tame stuff. Interestingly, King tells Rolling Stone that he was, during the writing of It, under the influence of drugs and alcohol, saying, “I was a heavy [cocaine] user from 1978 until 1986, something like that.” The Tommyknockers was the last book he wrote under the influence. King has subsequently been clean and sober ever since.
It may be surprising to learn that It is an adaption of a classic Norwegian faery tale called The Three Billy Goats Gruff, about three billy goats outsmarting a bridge troll. King wrote on his website: “I decided that the bridge could be the city, if there was something under it. What’s under a city? Tunnels. Sewers . . . I thought of how such a story might be cast; how it might be possible to create a ricochet effect, interweaving the stories of the children and the adults they become. Sometime in the summer of 1981 I realized that I had to write the troll under the bridge or leave him—IT—forever.”
The movie is strongest when displaying the chemistry between the child actors. These scenes evoke the nostalgic camaraderie of Stand By Me and Stranger Things. After a genuinely creepy introduction though, the scary bits begin to lose their effect. The formula wears thin as each member of the Losers Club must have their own encounter with Pennywise. The tension can’t be sustained, relying too much on jump scares and horror tropes. To be fair, it isn’t easy condensing a 1,138 page novel into a feature film. But even its 135-minute running time feels too long.To use another trope – the film bursts like a red balloon. It’s a let down.
Surprisingly, it may take a second It movie to give substance to this film. In fact, It is merely one half of King’s novel. The second half of the book explores the Losers Club as adults, who return to Derry 27 years later to do battle once again with Pennywise. Hopefully, this next iteration will explore greater subtleties of character development. Until then, please stay out of the sewers.