Friday, September 8, 2017

Shake IT Off

Scares in It, the second screen adaptation (though the first for the big screen) of Stephen King’s clownish tome, are constructed so homogeneously that the whole two-hours-and-fifteen-minutes is ultimately an exercise in tedium. When you know it’s nothing more than regular intervals of a talented teenage cast’s cliched bantering punctuated by sudden appearances of a deadly supernatural clown-shaped evil and its attendant assorted monster manifestations (a knockoff Modigliani, a leper, a geyser of blood, and so on), you can almost set your watch by it. It drifts on cultural nostalgia for what is, in my frustrated experience, a thick, shambling novel long on iconography and short on thrill. There’s a reason why only Tim Curry’s marvelously funny/scary performance as Pennywise the Clown is the sole lingering element of the 1990 miniseries. This new adaptation – scripted by True Detective: Season 1 director Cary Fukunaga with co-writer Chase Palmer and revised by Annabelle’s Gary Dauberman – takes King’s narrative of childhood innocence fractured by fears and treats it so very seriously. Here the story of a town besieged by an evil in their sewers and the plucky young teens who are the only hope of stopping it grows ponderous and empty. We’ve been here before, and there’s nothing new to show for it, aside from yet another 80’s-set genre period piece. (Funny how a novel from the 80’s – a clear inspiration on Stranger Things – now feels like a copycat of its own copycat, completing a cultural circle of some sad note.) 

Director Andy Muschietti, whose Mama was a superior exploration of similar child-endangerment themes, makes a movie proficient and dull, whipping up reasonably good effects at maximum volume, but failing to string them along in any momentum of excitement or dread. (He also returns to the same small bag of tricks over and over – the slowly canting angle when something bad is about to happen; the long pause with negative space before a blast on the soundtrack; the creepy flat stare and otherworldly lilt of Bill Skarsgard’s clown villain.) The pulp jump scares – and that’s all that’s here, mild jolts of surprise with none of the under-the-skin stickiness one expects from quality horror – sit queasily next to flatly cartoonish manifestations of adult malfeasance towards children. Every grown-up is preposterous and monstrous – shot low and ominous, makeup forming mottled complexions, wobbling tottering mounds of wardrobe shrouding them in ill-fitting un-fashion – as uncaring at best, abusive at worst behavior leads one to think children getting dragged down drain pipes by Pennywise is hardly the town’s worst problem. The experience is a flat line, no modulation and only the slightest of nice grace notes – a shyly flirtatious glance, an authentically trying-too-hard raunchy one-liner from a nerdy kid – to bolster the bludgeoning familiarity and routine gloopy rhythms.

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