Hannah Parker reviews the newest film to make us jump out of our uncomfortable cinema seats…
There’s no doubt Stephen King is one of the best writers to ever grace this planet. He manages to thrill, scare and excite you all at the same time. Modern horror films regularly have zero storyline, zero plot, zero anything other than trying to make you jump. So, the idea of the next big screen scare-fest being based upon a Stephen King novel has excited film fans more than any horror film has done in years.
When being adapted for the big screen, King novels have generally converted well. Films such as The Green Mile (2000) and The Shawshank Redemption (1995) come to mind. But not all tales have been so successful. The 1990 miniseries, It was met with mixed reviews, and the only real saving grace was Tim Curry’s role as Pennywise the clown.
This time, however, Hollywood has taken the story and made it so true to the personality of the book itself, you’d easily think Stephen King directed it. He did not. In fact the man with the task of bringing Pennywise to life once more was Andy Muschietti (Mama).
“Hollywood has taken the story and made it so true to the personality of the book itself, you’d easily think Stephen King directed it”
The story told in its simplest form is that an evil entity comes back to the town of Derry every 27 years to terrorise children. It manifests into your worst nightmare and feeds off that fear, but the manifestation you’re most likely to recognise is Pennywise the clown, this time played by Bill Skarsgård (The Divergent Series: Allegiant).
Not only was he brave to take on a role that was previously played by such a well-known and loved actor, but it has to be said, he was awful. Kidding! Tim Curry set the bar high, and Bill Skarsgård has jumped straight onto that bar. He’s terrifying, he’s infectious to watch, he’s so mesmerising in fact that you almost don’t want him to die. It’s basically The Joker all over again – what is it with our love/hate relationship with clowns? Skarsgård’s Pennywise will go down as one of the most memorable villains for all the right reasons.
But, the film wasn’t all about the dancing clown. The heroes of King’s novel come in the form of children. There’s a distinct similarity to the popular Netflix series, Stranger Things (2016), not only because Finn Wolfhard stars in both. But, also the idea of a group of kids chasing after a monster while the majority of the adults are ignorant and helpless. Once again, this philosophy worked.
The diversity amongst the seven kids is actually more representative than we’re used to from Hollywood. Not only do we see a boy of colour join the monster-hunting friendship group, but also a young Jewish boy. As well, the main character has a stutter, and although this was a conscious decision for the young teenager, there’s barely any negative attention towards his speech impediment. Having said that, it would have been much more commendable if an actor with a stutter in real life was cast, rather than someone playing at being disabled.
This is Hollywood after all, so it’s not perfect.
The female character for the most part isn’t sexualised; in fact she’s more courageous than the boys. But there’s one scene in particular where all the kids have been swimming in a lake in their underwear. As they leave the water to dry off, she lies down to relax and the camera pans from the boys gawping at her, to a close shot of her chest in her non-padded bra. Unfortunately, in a film that did a pretty good job at being representative, they still managed to slip back into the typical Hollywood sexism by yet again catering to the male gaze.
“in a film that did a pretty good job at being representative, they still managed to slip back into the typical Hollywood sexism by yet again catering to the male gaze”
However, it must be said that the issue of bullying has been tackled in a head-on and shocking way. We also get the chance to see why the main bully is “in fact” a bully. Often in films based around the typical “loser kid group”, the bully’s point of view is never explored. But as we all know, their reason for tormenting others is to feel powerful. In this case, he bullies because of his scare-mongering father. It acts as a reminder of the horrors of abuse, and how it can not only traumatise one person, but act as a knock-on effect. One kids hurtful abuse causes another kids traumatic abuse, and a vicious, unstoppable chain is born. It was refreshing to see some kind of explanation for this nasty lads behaviour, even if it was only a sub-plot.
The film was over two hours long, which is fairly lengthy for a horror movie. But it never felt as though it was being dragged along and you weren’t left pondering why certain scenes were included. That being said, there was so much scope to explore characters and storylines in more depth that one must wonder whether it would have worked better as a Netflix series.
But that’s neither here nor there, it’s a moot point. The film is here, it’s in cinemas now, it’s smashed box office records, and there has already been confirmation of a sequel. With Halloween just around the corner, you probably want to avoid going outside if you have a fear of clowns. Pennywise will always be watching.