Feat. The Music of Queens of The Stone Age
“You’ll float too.”
Help! Somebody save these kids! Where are the police?
Andy Musciette’s new rendition of It begins in the small town of Derry, Maine, on a dark and stormy October day in 1988. Little Georgie is in Billy’s room, admiring his older brother’s crafted paper sailboat. 80s memorabilia is strewn about the bedroom. A Beetlejuice movie poster sticks to the wall beside another of Gremlins.
After a spine tingling trip to the cellar for more glue, the boat is finished. Billy hands the boat to Georgie, who scurries outside to float it on the rushing waters of the street curb. He splashes along in the pouring rain, happily following the boat down the side of the suburban street in his bright yellow raincoat.
I hear a score of fantastically mysterious piano music, and my heart balloons inside my chest; I am 11 again, watching Harry Potter with my family for the first time. Dumbledore is deluminating the street lights of Little Whinging, just before meeting The Boy Who Lived, and glimpsing the infamous lightning-bolt scar on the infant’s forehead.
This good feeling lasted all of a few seconds before lightning struck my own forehead like a cold steel cattle bolt, right between the eyes: Joy was about to be lured into the gutter, never to return.
After this harrowing opening sequence, like Georgie, I was hooked for the remainder of the film, for better or worse. I can tell you, there’s no shortage of horror or jaw dropping carnage the rest of the way. In fact, the experience really took something out of me, something I wish had stayed with me on this particular day.
We are living in a new age of horror, wrought with movies catering to a top thrill dragster accustomed audience. Make no mistake, this isn’t your grand daddy’s roller coaster ride anymore. This is 0-120 mph in 3.8 seconds, then straight up with a twist, and back down at a 90 degree slope.
Of all 5 of the emotions I describe in this blog, Fear may be the one with the greatest affective and psychological potential. It has to do with how the human psyche is wired. The old brain, or basic instinct center, is very sensitive, and exists to ensure our survival. It responds to perceived threats in our environment by triggering our fight or flight response.
In the brain, the hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland, which in turn signals the adrenal gland (located on the kidneys) to release adrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream, causing the heart to beat faster. In turn, we experience anxiety, and shortness of breath. While some people crave this experience, other people are distressed by it.
If you are wondering what It is, perhaps look no further than your own psyche, particularly this old-brain system. Observe how your body responds when you face something you are afraid of for the first time, and then the second.
If you face your fear again and again, in a safe environment, and walk away unharmed each time, gradually you will become less afraid. This phenomenon is known as habituation, and is the basis for exposure therapy, a form of Cognitive-Behavioral (CBT) therapy, which can help some people overcome their phobias, or at least better cope with them.
Professor Lupin offers this idea to his students in Prisoner of Azkaban when he lines them up to face the shape-shifting bogart, and drops the needle on a feisty jazz record!
Likewise, in It, each child must face their own fear one at a time. And, while the idea is of pure intention, how it plays out on-screen is sometimes infuriating, if not laughable. Like, really? You’re going to go into the creepy room by yourself, again!? And when you scream it takes your friends 5 minutes to reach you, even though they are literally standing right outside the threshold?
The young cast is a bottomless well of talent. I was particularly impressed by Jaeden Lieberher as Billy, and of course Finn Wolfhard (Mike from Stranger Things) as Richie. And Sophia Lillis, while she doesn’t quite fit the character of Beverly, in my impressionable opinion, is so delightfully airy that it doesn’t even matter. Is that a young Felicity Jones I see?
Common to all the kids’ fears is the vision of the clown, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) who seems to be a dark variant of the trickster archetype of our collective unconscious. In stories and ancient myths, The trickster is the character who is a comedy of opposites, breaker of taboos, and a character that will pull off elaborate schemes to teach a moral lesson or expose the folly of men.
The arguable moral of this story, which the clown teaches the children, is that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Also, don’t reach for that dollar, little baby, or you’ll drown!
If Muschiette’s intent was to instruct his audience in the same way the clown not-so-kindly instructs the children, in other words, desensitize us to our own fear, then it works.
By the final act, I was no longer afraid, despite the jump scares and blood still in store for me. By this point, my fear had been called from the well too many times, and had decided to retire.
This parallel between my own experience and that of the children was disenchanting for me because it reminded me I too have grown up. For, to feel afraid is essential to the experience of being a child, is it not?
I won’t deny, there were a lot of truly great scenes in this film, like the aforementioned opening scene, and one that occurs in Beverly’s bathroom (O-M-G). However, in between these great scenes, the EXP multiplier resets, due to some awkward transitions in the narrative. There are also some WTF scenes as well. Like, kid, you think killing that person is really going to solve all your problems? Somebody save these kids! Help! Where are the Police?
I have heard this movie likened to coming of age stories like Stand by Me, The Breakfast Club, and The Goonies. And, while the influence of these movies is certainly present, It is simply way darker, and more cynical than its predecessors. I feel a more appropriate description might be, The Goonies meets Silence of The Lambs.
While I would not recommend this movie to most people I know, because of its violence, I am definitely glad I saw this film. And, I consider It to be the the official start to the great season of horror! I hope to write about plenty more horror movies in the coming weeks.
How did It make you feel? Thanks as always for reading, and I welcome your opinion of this film.
EFC 2.08 Soundtrack: “Villains of Circumstance” by Queens of The Stone Age
Release Date: September 08, 2017 (USA)
Director: Andy Muschiette
Writers: Cary Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation), Gary Dauberman (Annabelle: Creation), Chase Palmer, Stephen King (Novel)
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Olef, Nicholas Hamilton, and Bill Skarsgard
The Inside Out: Fear (36), Disgust (16), Sadness (7), Joy (7), Anger (4).