It (2017, USA, d. Andy Muschietti, 135 minutes)
After years of delays and production changes, the big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s beloved novel finally makes it way to theaters.
In case you don’t know the story, It follows a group of kids circa 1989 who band together to defeat a demon, taking the form of a clown, hunting local children. The kids or, “The Loser Club”, as they call themselves, include Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Ritchie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and Beverly (Sophia Lillis).
What makes this film unique is the focus on the kids and their coming-of-age story as opposed to simply making a horror film with a scary clown. The tone of the film often feels like something Spielberg would’ve made in the 80’s, similar to films like The Goonies and Stand By Me.
The cast is simply outstanding. The kids all have great chemistry, and never come off as “actor-y”. They all feel genuine and compel you every step of the way. Notable stand-outs include Jaeden Lieberher as Bill, Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) as Ritchie, who gets some of the funniest lines in the film, and Sophia Lillis who is destined to become an a-lister.
You can’t talk about the cast and not include Pennywise himself, Bill Skarsgard. Most people have some sort of memory of the 1990 mini-series starring Tim Curry as Pennywise. Many now reflect on the series being a cheesy product of it’s era, despite a legendary performance from Curry. Skarsgard’s portrayal, however, tops Curry’s in nearly every way. Bill Skarsgard gives a completely transformative performance that is destined to be iconic and will scare audiences for decades to come. We’re first introduced to him early on with a cheery tone in his voice, while drooling from his mouth and promising a young child a trip to the circus in the sewer drain. It’s these types of manic, unpredictable actions that make him so terrifying. When he’s on screen, you can’t look away, despite his every second spent frightening the holy hell out of you. He doesn’t have a large amount of screen time, but you’ll remember every scene he’s in. His performance reminded me of a mix between Heath Ledger’s Joker, Freddy Kruger, Beetlejuice and even a hint of Jim Carrey’s Grinch. This Pennywise is the boogeyman of the decade.
At it’s core, this is a story about fear in all forms. The fears of being a kid, the fears of grief, the fears of the opposite sex, the fears of life; these are all uniquely brought to life through some great performances and poignant writing.
The film also features a vast arsenal of scares for the audience. We get your standard, albeit well done, jump scares, suspense, psychological horror, and even some gore that feels straight out of The Evil Dead, and yes, that’s a compliment.
Director Andy Muschietti (Mama), delicately balances tones with sheer precision. This is a film that has it all; horror, suspense, drama, comedy, a hint of romance and even an action sequence set to Metallica. The film never feels jarring and each genre is blended smoothly. When it comes to the scares, he knows when to push it just enough and when to quit. Some scenes end with no big payoff, which makes the suspense that more heightened. The jump scares here aren’t empty scares. No cat jumps out of a closet with a loud shrieking noise or someone yelling “boo” in attempt to scare the other characters. With expert camera work and top-notch makeup effects, the images presented on screen during these scares are genuinely frightening. Kudos to the studio for allowing some of these scares. One moment in particular is something I don’t think I’ve seen in a wide release horror film in years. This is a hard R-rating.
The execution isn’t perfect, however. Some of the CG, particularly with Pennywise, actually takes away from some of the more frightening moments, where as all the practical effects are spot on. This is a similar problem I had with Muschietti’s other film Mama, and I hope this can be corrected or at least toned down with the planned sequel. Although faithful from the book, the bullies don’t feel realistic within the confines of the film and feels like a cliche found with many Stephen King novels, which this film, for the most part, navigates around. Also, maybe because I’m just a big genre film junkie, but I slightly wish this film was scarier. Granted, more scares would have sacrificed the overall focus of the film, I just can’t help but feel that I should’ve been more terrified, but that’s more than likely just my expectations rather than the film.
It brings together all the best elements of the book while wisely omitting some of the weaker elements in an adaptation that is fresh, funny, scary, full of heart, and handled with precision and care. Bill Skarsgard transforms into one of this generations most menacing and soon-to-be feared villains along with great performances from the charming young cast and an excellent vision realized by Andy Muschietti in what is one of the finest Stephen King adaptations ever put to screen.