So I’ve mentioned this surprisingly often for a blog that’s only been around for six weeks, but I don’t really like horror movies. But it just so happens that one of my best friends does, and one of the many reasons I appreciate her is that she drags me out of my cinematic comfort zone. We all need a friend like that.
So thanks to her, I saw It, which is about a demon sewer clown that scares children except maybe it’s not a literal clown but just a demon that represents all fears? I’m not really sure.
To get to the point, no, I didn’t like It. This review isn’t going to be some story of a perfect horror movie that redeems the whole genre in a cynic’s eyes. But I did think that this particular movie helped me realize just why the genre doesn’t suit me. So let’s go over some of those. Because if you are dreaming of writing that perfect horror movie that redeems the whole genre in a cynic’s eyes, it might help you to know how a horror cynic thinks.
1. Scare me with your story, not your scoring/SFX/editing
It is not a scary story, at least not the particular story told in this film (I haven’t read the novel so I can’t speak to that.) Maybe it has scary moments, maybe it’s even a scary movie, but that’s different than being a scary story. When It scares you, it’s because there’s a really intense soundtrack (which was one of my favorite parts of the film), or because there’s really scary graphics, or because the way the film is shot and edited disorients you. But it’s not because the story got you invested.
Hell, the first third of this was barely a story. It was basically people going about their everyday lives, and occasionally some random scary thing would come out. There’s some bullies who do some mean things to keep things interesting and make our protagonists sympathetic, not that they’re ever given proper motivations. Maybe about an hour in, our main characters are finally brought together and we get something resembling a plot.
Compare this to something like Get Out, which was a horror movie I actually enjoyed. Here we start with a relatively small conflict: an African-American man is nervous about meeting his white girlfriend’s parents. The movie then continues to build and build and build and the conflicts get scarier and scarier and scarier as the film progresses. So when we finally get to the point where Chris is fleeing the house, it’s not because a monster of snazzy special effects is chasing him, it’s because the story up until that point showed us why we he would want to run and made us scared on his behalf. The movie doesn’t even need snazzy special effects to be scary.
2. Surprise me
Look, I get that the people who make the movies and the people who make the trailers are not usually going to be the same people, if ever. That being said, you should know that if you tell me your movie is about a demon clown that lives in the sewer, I can only get so scared when a scary demon clown appears in a sewer. And maybe other people are different, but I need some unexpected stuff to get scared. It never really gets there.
The beginning is about a scary clown in the sewer and the climax is still about a scary clown in the sewer. I didn’t feel like there were any curveballs. The attempts there were at curveballs fall flat and made no sense. Oh, so whatshisname’s mom has been giving him placebos this whole time? What the hell does that have to do with anything and why should I care?
In fact (and this kinda goes back to point 1), I don’t even think the ending of It was all that much scarier than the beginning because it was still relying on the same monsters and filmmaking techniques. I would’ve preferred if the movie didn’t try to scare me as much earlier on and then saved some surprises for late in the movie.
3. Scary fantasy should remind me of scary reality
Get Out and The Sixth Sense are scary fantasies in that the events depicted could not literally happen in the world we currently live in. However, they do explore very real (and scary) themes. Get Out is about racism. It explores the reality that there are terrible people out there who will do terrible things in the name of white supremacy and that it’s not always immediately obvious who those racists are. The Sixth Sense reminds us of the reality that one day we will die, and we have no fucking clue what will happen after that.
Now I think there’s a strong possibility that It the novel explored realistic, complex themes that the movie just couldn’t capture. That being said, It is just about scary shit. I think maybe it was trying to make some profound statement about how the greatest thing we have to fear is fear itself or something along those lines, but if it tried I just don’t see that shining through (See what I did there? It’s funny because Stephen King also wrote The Shining? Whatever). It doesn’t remind me of anything that actually scares me. And I’m sorry, but making a horror movie with a central theme of fear is like making a romcom with a central theme of love. Ya’all need to get a little more specific than that.
All three of these boil back down to one thing that’s true of all genres: start with a good script. I can forgive mediocre effects or editing once I’m invested in a story. If I’m not invested in the story, I’m probably not going to like the movie, even if I can appreciate the wonderful acting, directing, editing, and scoring that went into it, as is the case here. Write a good script. Don’t just show me a scary monster and play well-orchestrated music and call it a day. (Or should I say call It a day? GET IT? …ok I’ll stop now).