Review - 'IT'
It has been a great year for horror movies and their performances at the box office. First we had Split, which I wasn't that crazy about, but was decent enough and did huge business at the beginning of the year, and also proved that M. Night Shyamalan's The Visit wasn't just a fluke. Then we got the stellar Get Out, which is honestly still my favorite film of the year and made copious amounts of cash on a micro-budget. Next was the decent Annabelle: Creation, which is now set to make over $100 million stateside. Well, now we have another one to add to that growing list: IT.
Not only is IT an insanely massive hit, grossing an astonishing $123 million in its first weekend, it's also now one of my favorite horror films of all time. No, I'm not joking. I was floored by just how much I enjoyed this latest adaptation of Stephen King's iconic book of the same title.
IT follows a group of outcast children who go by the moniker of "The Losers Club' as they take it upon themselves to track down and defeat a child-devouring clown known as Pennywise.
To make this film work, director Andy Muschetti had to accomplish a number of things. First and foremost, he had to establish the Losers Club in a believable and relate-able way. Next, Pennywise the Dancing Clown had to be an ever-present threat that you fear not only because he's terrifying looking, but also because you know how vulnerable the Loser's Club is to his powers. Finally, he had to establish the setting in a way that was believable, despite how insane the premise may be. Andy Muschetti accomplishes all of these goals deftly, and the film he has constructed is a masterclass in the way all of these elements are balanced.
First off, The Losers Club is cast just about perfectly. This film would have been neigh unbearable if the child actors had been lacking. While not every character is memorable, the whole gang has perfect chemistry and the performances are all solid across the board. Jaeden Lieberher, who plays Bill, is a solid lead. His mourning of his little brother Gorgie is believable and you get a real sense of why he would take it upon himself to bring down Pennywise. I also loved Bev, played by Sophia Lillis. Her character is tormented by an abusive father and she has a way of showing that pain through her performance without having to say a word. Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Grazer also turn in excellent performances as Ben, Richie and Eddie, respectively. Finally, while Chosen Jacobs did a lot with a little playing Mike Hanlon, I didn't feel like I got to see enough of him.
Now we come to Bill Skarsgard, who was probably my biggest question mark going into the film. Skarsgard absolutely knocks it out of the park with his portrayal of Pennywise. I loved Tim Curry in the original miniseries and he will always have a special place in my heart, but I found Bill Skarsgard's version to be immediately more compelling, and it's something about those eyes of his. This guy just knows how to get under your skin with a simple look. I was drawn to his character in the same way I was drawn to Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker, I just couldn't take my eyes off of him. It also helps that the costume work and effects that bring him to life are top-of-the-line. If I had seen this in my grade school years I would have had many sleepless nights.
Also working in the film's favor is the setting and atmosphere. Derry, Maine, the small town in which the events of IT takes place operates in almost a different reality, a reality where you believe a child-devouring clown might feasibly lurk. Muschetti also captures that distinct King feeling. This film takes the best of what Stephen King writes and realizes it on the screen in a convincing way, even if it isn't a word-for-word reconstruction of the text. There was something about the town that enticed me, yet at the same time repelled me.
I also admired the different scares IT has in it's arsenal. Sure, there are jump-scares a-plenty, but none of them seem cheap and all of them are earned. There are no cats jumping out from behind shower curtains here. And it's not just jump scares, there's also an inherent eeriness that exudes from every scene, which adds to the tension. There are even great scares that don't involve Pennywise. The bullies and in some cases parents that torment the Losers Club throughout the film are believable and in some ways just as scary as the clown itself.
Are there flaws in IT? Yes, a few, but none of them come close to derailing the film. There were a few times where I felt that the flow from scene to scene was not as clean as it should have been. Also, some characters get the lions-share of screen-time, while others are unnecessarily sidelined for long periods of time and show up much later after you had forgotten about them. Finally, there are a couple of shots involving CGI that are noticeable.
Overall, IT is a highly accomplished horror film that excels on just about every level. I was terrified at times, I laughed at others and I was touched by the very human characters and their interactions with one another. IT is a horror classic in the making, and anyone who has even a distant interest in the horror genre owes it to themselves to give it a look.