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The worst part of suspense is when you have no idea what’s coming. Watching characters fumble and fall as they flee what could be a ghost, a demon, or even a murderous human being is made all the more terrifying when they have no idea how to fight whatever it is.
Horror movie reboots (or adaptations), then, have to work even harder to keep an audience on the edge of their seats. Having been familiar with these villains and monsters for years — sometimes even decades — filmmakers need to implement new techniques to keep them as scary as when they first got popular.
The Stephen King adaptation It is a film that doesn’t get the scary right. This is obvious from the trailer: it opens with a little kid running into a blockade, features a mom doing a dramatic hair flip into Pennywise the clown, and ends on a jump scare that was endlessly memed in the YouTube comment section.
The issue is that horror and comedy are two sides of the same coin. The editing techniques employed are closely linked, and it can be easy for one to slip into the other. So when working with an already less-scary villain (by virtue of us knowing who he is), It needed to make sure it didn’t step too close to the comedic edge.
The Stephen King adaptation ‘It’ is a film that doesn’t get the scary right
The film doesn’t do this. Instead, it has many purposefully funny moments (and a deluge of teenage-boy “your mom” jokes). It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that, in a theatre full of eager fans, for every scream the film elicited, it drew three more laughs.
Many of these laughs are scripted purposefully, but there are unintentional decisions that pull the film away from its promise of horror. The strangest of these is Bill Skarsgård’s performance as the child-eating Pennywise.
Skarsgård plays a theatrical, over-the-top clown that feels like a tribute to Mike Myers’ Cat in the Hat (2003). His ability to morph into whatever he needs, the way he talks to the children, and even his dance moves (yes, Pennywise dances) are so similar to Cat that it wouldn’t be shocking to hear Skarsgård used him as a case study.
Smaller moments in serious scenes stuck out, too: One character angrily riding his bike upright like a horse, scripted mispronunciations, and an overbearing mother monotonously telling her son not to roll in grass.
None of this is to say that It isn’t worth watching: it’s engaging, and so many people will be talking about it that you may as well be in-the-know. Most of the child performances are stellar (despite problematic storylines), and the score is beautiful.
But unless your deathly afraid of clowns, you’re probably not going to lose any sleep after watching It.