Remake of ‘It’ feels unfinished, lacks horror element

of Stephen King’s “It.” The first part of the series leaves the viewer wanting more horror. / Courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr

I can’t think of a movie better suited for the transition from summer into autumn (read Halloween) than “It.” “It” is, in my opinion, aimed more at capturing the feeling of summertime for a bunch of white children than it is a horror movie. In other films, this sort of supernatural aspect would normally be dropped in favor of acting as a sort of symbol for the summer as a whole. But with “It,” the supernatural is all too real, and I think it is the movie’s most damaging aspect in that it throws off the equilibrium of what we expect this movie to be: It’s not a horror movie and it’s not an adventure movie, it’s somewhere in between.

My biggest complaint with this movie is that it just feels incomplete. Stephen King’s Pennywise saga has been split into two parts, and it is apparent to the viewer. I’m fine with sequels, but when the second movie is going to be so far removed from the first in terms of character and setting, the first film should strive to leave the audience in a place where it is satisfying to rest. I think that “It” tries to do this, but there’s still this feeling that I didn’t get the entire picture with the first film installation.

This incompleteness is particularly troubling for the viewer. The movie concludes, and the story “It” tells is fulfilled satisfyingly—the summer ends, the friends say temporary goodbyes—but something still feels off about this movie as a whole that has just sat in my mind and festered ever since I saw the movie.

I think the nature of this effect has its source with Pennywise. Much like director Andy Muschietti’s previous film “Mama,” I just wasn’t really sure how I was supposed to feel about Pennywise, the story’s antagonist. Like sure, he’s definitely off and undeniably a monster, but I just feel like he didn’t leave an impression on me. Is he supposed to be a source of dread for the gang of kids, or is he supposed to be a physical threat? Or is he supposed to be a threat to children everywhere in their town of Derry?

The answer is a combination of all three, and I feel like the movie doesn’t pull any of them off particularly well. Pennywise is good at morphing into each child’s fear, sure, but these fears never get to any of the kids. Yes, they’re scared by the manifestations, but we never see any of these kids die from their fears—something we read a lot about in the books and in other horror films. And again, we only see Pennywise kill a couple kids. I never got the sense that Pennywise was this ominous menace to this society of kids.

One thing that would have better-helped establish this is if we had seen Pennywise kill more. As it stands, Pennywise feels like all bark and no bite. For an R-rated horror movie, “It” is definitely on the more conservative side when it comes to violence, which is a real shame in my book, and my feeling is that they’re saving the dying children factor for the next movie when the main characters have their own children.

Another problem I had with the horror in this movie was that it didn’t differ from horror norms. Pennywise is a really cool supernatural figure because of his ability to morph into the fears of children. Children are very imaginative people, and their fears reflect this. What this means is that there was the opportunity to include some pretty cool monsters that embodied the fears of these children. But instead of that, we got kids being chased by zombies, blood, hair and a woman. Like I get that these are tied to the individual fears of the children, but they just felt so generic (especially when compared to Pennywise’s developed clown persona) that it was hard to feel anything more than indifferent when these monsters came on screen.

The filmmakers also missed an opportunity to develop the kids’ characters with these embodiments. Seeing their fears is a good way to see the real character, and with one of the kids we sorta get this. But for the rest of them, we just know they’re scared of these things because…I don’t know, the movie never gave me a reason so I can’t give you one either.

But the movie isn’t bad. It just isn’t really a horror movie. It’s more akin to “Stranger Things,” “Super 8” and, of course, “The Goonies.” It’s a bunch of boys palling around over the summer dealing with friendships, bullies and just growing up in general. I particularly liked how the lives of these boys intersected with one another at the beginning of this movie and I liked how the parents had a small yet very noticeable presence in the movie.

But even in this department the movie feels more generic than it does fresh. It’s still fun to watch, and the kids are all great actors and have great chemistry when it comes to comedy (Finn Wolfhard from “Stranger Things” and Jack Dylan Grazer are absolutely hilarious), but it’s not the best way this type of movie has been done before.

And the more “adventury” side of this movie is where the dumbest part of this movie resides. I’m referring to when the solo female member of The Losers Club is taken hostage by Pennywise. I was expecting some sort of satirical edge to help liven up such a stupid cliché. But no, she has to be rescued by a team of bad-talking misfit boys. This has all been done before, and it’s been done better in other movies.

But “It” isn’t bad. It would be unfair to label it as anything, especially considering that it’s not complete. We’ll get the second half in a couple years and I’ll go and see that one as well. I’d be especially happy if the second movie makes up for the missteps of the first; the opportunity for improvement is there and that’s more than most movies can say. This movie did have its moments as well. It made me laugh, it made me a little grossed out sometimes and, most importantly, I was invested for the entire movie.

This wasn’t like 2013’s “Mama,” where I tuned out halfway through and fell asleep. I was excited to see how this movie ended and how it would wrap up its plot points. And it did that. But I’m finding that the more I think about this movie, the more I’m realizing that there’s a bit of a funky taste left in my mouth. I am hopeful that the second installation can do more justice to the story.

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