DISCLAIMER: No, I have not read the book, and no, there will not be any spoilers.
IT takes place in 1988 in a small town called Derry, and it follows the lives of seven young kids who make up “The Loser’s Club”. William Denbrough (or Billy) urges his friends to find the truth behind the mysterious death of his younger brother Georgie, who is killed early on in the film by Pennywise the Dancing Clown. They display a remarkable amount of courage during the film as they challenge school bullies and a sadistic clown who loves to feed on children.
IT does not use a gradual build up of horror to terrify its viewers – the horror is prevalent at the beginning of the film. It’s a style that I tend to prefer (for popular horror films) over the usual method of creating suspense through slow progression, because it proves to be more entertaining from the beginning. That’s not to say that The Shining (a classic film based off of another Stephen King novel) isn’t one of the best horror movies of all time, but it requires a certain level of attentiveness and patience that is uncharacteristic of an audience viewing a mainstream blockbuster like IT.
The danger with a lack of foreplay in a horror film is that a quick pace can end up ruining the film. IT is chock full of scary moments, and not just jump scares, but suspended scenes with constant horror and unnerving events. I knew that if five minutes went by without a major event, something was bound to happen in the next thirty seconds, and nine times out of ten I was correct. The consistent horror didn’t end up ruining the film for me, but it did end up making watching the film an unenjoyable experience. me
I realize that ‘enjoyable’ isn’t an adjective that is commonly used when describing someone’s experience after watching a horror movie. But if we don’t enjoy watching scary movies, why do we watch them? We watch them because we enjoy the thrill, just like a crazy rollercoaster.
As I sat in the theatre, I could easily observe the thrill factor come go. For the first half of the film, the typical crowd reactions could be seen and heard; A group of girls screaming and then laughing at their reaction; a group of guys pretending to talk to one another as an excuse for not looking at the screen; an overly-expressive older woman yelling explicatives and telling the young protagonists “don’t go through that door!”; the bright lights of cell-phones as people took them out as a distraction. But midway through the film, at a point where I truly believed the film was over and was prepared to leave, there was break in action, and then the horror began again.
By this point, I think the audience was over it. There were no more screams or giggling, chatter or loud comments. As I recall, the theatre became relatively silent, and it was quiet while we exited the theatre as well. This wouldn’t have struck me as strange if we had just finished watching a psychological thriller like Silence of the Lambs, or a mind-boggling movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey. If you’ve seen these two films, you’ll quickly recognize that IT does not belong in the same conversation with these films, based on quality, genre, affect, etc. So the silence I heard surely can’t be justified. From what I could tell, I think people genuinely wanted the film to be over as time went on. I believe that a number of people would agree that the movie felt extremely long, and it’s simply because they tried to pack too much into a package that was too small. They did not attempt to fit all 1,138 pages of Stephen King’s It into one film, but even if you split the production into chapters (hint, hint), you’re most likely going to oversaturate the film.
Finding the perfect balance with films like this is certainly a tall task, especially when the stakes are as high as they were with this film. Daring to re-imagine an iconic Stephen King novel is always going to elicit a strong reaction. Many will say that the directors failed in this attempt, which of course, they did. Putting a bestselling book on a movie screen will always come short of expectations and fail to please the critics. In my opinion, the goal is to fail, but fail respectably and with honor, and from what I saw they accomplished this goal. If anything, they went a bit too far in trying to accomplish it, and they might have overdone it, but they get points for effort. Regardless, I’m sure that people will continue to flock to the screens with their friends and partners to see if the hype is real. It will likely disturb most, disappoint many, and fully please those strange few who have an exceptional appetite for gore and horror.