Director – Andy Muschietti
Cast – Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Owen Teague, Jackson Robert Scott, Stephen Bogaert, Stuart Hughes
Release Year – 2017
Reviewed by John of the Dead
All throughout my childhood my brother and I would watch the 1990 It TV film almost religiously. From Tim Curry’s iconic “library” scene to the young Eddie’s “battery acid” bluff, there wasn’t a moment in the film that we did not have memorized. Because of this, the 1990 film has held a special place in my heart. I think the only two films I watched more while growing up were Jurassic Park and Independence Day. As a television movie it suffers from being a bit tame, but that does not keep this effort from being considered one of my favorite horror films, even with its dated feel. When word broke out that we would be getting a modern day adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, I had two requests in mind. The first, I hoped they would take their time and do it right – and by right I mean I hoped it would be rated R. My second request was that I wanted it done in two parts like the TV movie. Well, it turns out that both of them came to be. With the Guillermo del Toro-discovered Mama director Andy Muschietti at the director’s helm, It (2017) has done what many other modern horror adaptations fail to do – it kicks ass. While I definitely have some qualms with the film, the end result is better than I ever would have expected. It is gritty, well-shot, takes its time developing, and most importantly it comes riddled with scare sequences from the genre’s most notable clown.
This first installment follows seven bullied kids who band together when a monster, taking the form of a clown, begins hunting the town’s children. Deeming themselves “The Loser’s Club”, they are all that stand in the way of a malevolent force responsible for the heinous events that occur every 27 years in Derry, Maine.
I cannot help but applaud the filmmakers for setting the tone right away, and in grand fashion. With an R-rating the fans are expecting this effort to deliver more of the goods than the TV movie could. It does just that with the franchise’s most notable scene, the Georgie sequence. I want to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, but I think it is safe to assume the vast majority of you know what happens here. This effort does nothing new here storywise. Instead, Muschietti & co. elect to give us a full-frontal view that is sure to leave viewers in shock at the guts these guys have.
While the rest of the film is nowhere near as brutal, it does deliver something I was not expecting: heart. It is obvious that the writers wanted to give fans an experience that would not only bring on that nostalgic feel genre nerds know and love, but also improve on the limitations the TV film faced. This starts with the Loser’s Club. We are given the same seven characters and with no name changes. Their struggles are unique to their fears and it is here where you will see a few changes. I have no qualms with the changes made and was glad to see that the writers emphasized that while It takes the form of a clown to lure children, this is not its only form. Each child’s fear sequence is quite spectacular in how amplified it is. I enjoyed seeing them writhe in anguish as their deepest horrors are manifested in front of them. This struggle, alongside a history of being bullied by some neighborhood Neanderthals, is what brings the group together. The bond this group forms is phenomenal and is probably the film’s biggest selling point. Sure this is a “horror” film, but it is equal parts drama. Director Andy Muschietti does a fantastic job of bringing out the character play and selling it as if these young actors have worked together for years. The execution is spot on, and succeeded in making me like certain characters and hate others.
Story-wise there were some surprises, with the biggest one being how funny the film is. We all know that Richie, portrayed by Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard, is the comedian of the group, but I would have never guessed he’d deliver as many jokes as he did. He is the obvious comic relief, and this relief comes at alarming intervals. To me, it was a bit too much. I did enjoy some of his jokes but after a while his quirks and remarks become too repetitive and lost their flair for me. There are some other comical sequences that don’t involve Richie and I loved them. I won’t spoil them for you, just know that the story brings more comedy than expected. In fact, there are even some scenes that are so outlandishly gruesome that I could not help but laugh.
Muschietti’s direction succeeds on all fronts, but the biggest question and concern of what I feel would be 99.99% of fans is how Pennywise would be portrayed. Actor Tim Curry left some huge clown shoes to be filled, and while Bill Skarskgard (Helmlock Grove) can never undo Curry’s legacy he can at least create his own…and he does. The opening sequence with Georgie gives us a frightening insight into Skarsgard’s Pennywise. For me, his facial reactions, mannerisms, voice, and eyes told me everything I needed to know. The writers wrote this Pennywise to be much more sinister and complex than Tim Curry’s. Because of this we see him go through more extremes and even an interesting arc towards the end. Skarsgard was perfect for this, and could be the newest genre actor to solidify himself as a character that no one else can portray. I did also like the look of this Pennywise, as he donned a more classic clown outfit. We are not given much information at all regarding Pennywise’s past (that is for the next film), but we are lead to believe that he has been lurking the Derry, Maine area for a long, long time.
While pretty much all of the horror is associated with the incredible Pennywise I actually never found myself scared. I was creeped out a few times during some low-lit scenes where you can see/hear him lurking in the shadows. I also really enjoyed the transformations Pennywise would undergo before he would kill. They definitely took the monster aspect up a few notches here. Aside from these scenes, though, the horror did not do it for me here. This is by no means me saying the film lacks scares. There are numerous scare sequences. In fact, I was glad to see that we did not have to go too long between Pennywise scenes during this 130 minute effort. We all have what scares us. For me, it just didn’t happen to be what this film has to offer. To start, I was unsatisfied with how Pennywise was executed during some of these scares. Instead of him running towards the camera I would have preferred he eerily approach it. These quick jolts weren’t quite cheap jump scares, but these scenes, and more specifically the editing, took away from Skarsgard’s performance. I really wish we would have seen him act the hell out of these scenes instead of just lending his face. The underwhelming scare material may also somewhat lie in the disappointing fact that there is CGI used during the film’s most notable scare sequences. I am sure that in some cases it was impossible to be filmed with practical effects. I get that. However, there are plenty where practical effects was not only possible, but would have surely made the scene hit harder. There were several occasions where I turned to my friend sitting next to me and shook my head. He asked why I did that and my reply was always “there shouldn’t have been any CGI there”. If there is any real complaint on my end it is the use of CGI – more specifically, when and where it was used. The general public surely won’t balk at this and will find much enjoyment in this fantastic effort. For hardened genre fans, this is the only negative I can see being an issue. Thankfully, it is a minor one that does not detriment much from the film.
Overall, It (2017) is a fantastic adaptation of Stephen King’s novel and is surely one of the better horror films of this millennium. It succeeds on all fronts, from story, to acting, to direction, and never relents for more than a few moments. I grew up loving the TV movie, and while this does not replace its spot in my heart, it does make me glad to see the filmmakers deliver a respectable take on a genre legend.
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