Archive for clowns

The Barrier of Nostalgia: Thoughts on IT

Posted in Dark Musings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2017 by smuckyproductions

Movie-Cast-2017

[light spoilers ahead]

This weekend ushered in the latest horror sensation: a fairly large-budgeted adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. The new version is flashy, stylish, pretty well-acted, and scary in moments. It’s remarkable that a studio film was able to follow Stephen King’s brutal, surreal and melodramatic book so closely. The changes made were, mostly, for the better. But through the entire viewing experience, I felt distanced. This was a coming-of-age narrative that I could only care about from afar, because it’s very far from mine – mainly because it’s about a group of straight white boys who never acknowledge that their struggles are far lighter than those of Bev and Mike, the only kids who don’t fit that mold.

I’m simply tired of hearing the story of these heteronormative characters rising above their bullies and fears, as if those things are actual oppressors rather than just obstacles. Pennywise represents human fear, but all of its incarnations are loud, digitized monsters. The film favors these shiny set pieces and neglects to develop what make King’s book so intoxicating – the actual monsters in town. Bev’s dad goes from a terrifying but human abuser to a one-note creep with as much nuance as Eddie’s leper; and Bill’s grieving parents, so heartbreakingly neglectful in the book, are reduced to a single yelling stereotype. While Bill Skarsgard is suitably frightening, the CGI always takes precedence over his performance; it’s hard to tell what’s him and what isn’t.

Those criticisms are petty and easily dismissed by taste, but my issues with the film go deeper. When people talk about the heart, it’s always in context of the Loser’s Club. And most of the screen time is granted to Bill, Richie and Eddie. The roles are performed well, but their stories simply don’t feel as honest or emotional to me as Mike and Bev’s. The former must fight for his life, not just his dignity, against the town bullies; while Bev, a 13-year-old girl who has survived apparent sexual abuse from her dad, is constantly ogled by her male counterparts (and the camera). There’s something off about that, right? Bev is performed with intensity and commitment by Sophia Lillis, and given a fair number of scenes to herself, but she is still defined by her sexuality and gender. Meanwhile, Mike – played by Chosen Jacobs – is simply a side character whose terror of white supremacy is never mentioned by his friends.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the film on a superficial level. IT is a blast. It’s never dull, the atmosphere is intoxicating, some (but far from all) of the scares are supremely effective. And therein lies another one of my issues. With stories like this and Stranger Things, which is basically IT-lite with a splat of Firestarter, it appears that issues like racism and sexism are “too serious” to be discussed outright. As if oppressed people can’t also tell stories that are fun as well as scary. Watching these films and television shows, it’s hard not to be entertained. I love a good, clever, suspenseful story. But when the characters are always cut from this same cloth – societally accepted, even if they aren’t popular – I (and other people like me, I’ve confirmed) begin to feel left out, even from these stories that claim to be about people who don’t fit in.

I guess it must be nostalgia, in part, that makes these stories so endearing. Nostalgia for “simpler times,” decades in the past; when these stories were told without a second thought. And what were those times like for people of color, queer people, women? That is the barrier of nostalgia: it looks back fondly on times that were outright dangerous for many people in our society. Telling stories that appear to celebrate this period become alienating for anyone besides those who thrived in them. And for those of us who can’t connect, saying so feels a little ostracizing. IT and Stranger Things are defended like white silk – one dirty mark and the whole thing is ruined. Why is that? Why can’t horror fans voice their dissenting opinions without being told they’re wrong, that they aren’t a part of this insider’s club?

Thing is, I’ve seen many horror films that eschew this pattern. Raw, The Witch, It Follows, Trash Fire, Get Out, Dearest Sister, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, XX, The Wailing, and The Invitation – just to name a few – all focus on narratives that don’t revolve around straight white boys. And some of them are extremely fun. What if these filmmakers had been granted the resources that IT received? What exciting, entertaining and nostalgic stories could they tell, that don’t focus on a heteronormative white man’s experience?

It’s not to say that these stories aren’t valid, but we’re heard them endless times, and they still seem to dominate the field. They’re the fan favorites because they’re easy, wrapped up neat and tidy; they don’t need to recognize that people still live in actual fear because their characters have overcome their villains. I guess ease is nice. And for the most part, I do fit into that demographic – white kid who was bullied in the suburbs. I’m not trying to claim that I don’t benefit from that privilige. But I had to come to terms with a part of my life that these characters will never have to worry about – my sexuality, which was hell to accept for myself, even worse to have to explain to people – and I don’t see that story being told very often. My friends and colleagues, women and people of color, likewise see their narratives dismissed. When will we get to tell our fun, exciting and honest stories?

I don’t like to think about the true answer to this question. These nostalgic voices still appear to the valued above all others in our culture. Speaking out against these voices seems to be taboo – the defenders of IT have come out in full force this weekend, quite angrily in some cases, against even the smallest criticism. I feel like I’m wrong in voicing my opinion. It saddens me to like an outsider even in a community of outsiders – horror fans. But the fact remains: I couldn’t just enjoy IT because I am tired of the narrative it perpetuates. I am tired of genre cinema valuing those voices over equally valid, but perhaps less tidy ones. It’s time to let someone else make the next big horror film, with a budget and cultural significance equal to IT. And yet, it still feels like that time is far, far away.

Advertisements