Review - 'IT'
Book to movie adaptations are always a fickle creature. You either get a movie that surpasses its source material like Jaws or you get the bottom of the barrel that pays poor tribute like The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Of course, Hollywood has once again bobbed for an apple in the Stephen King pool in hopes of another money maker and this time landed on IT, arguably King's best work and most beloved among his fans, but this time Hollywood scored.
IT mirrors the novel and the 90s television adaptation pretty close where in the small town of Derry, Maine, an ancient evil awakens every twenty-seven years while taking on the appearance of a clown named Pennywise to feed on children. After the disappearance of his little brother, Georgie, Bill Denbrough gathers together his friends, compiled of the Stephen King stockpile of character cliches, dubbed The Losers Club to find Georgie and destroy the evil known entity known simply as 'IT.'
Just to make things clear, IT is easily my favorite of King's novels but I was never a huge fan of the 90s miniseries. Tim Curry was the best part about the miniseries but I thought it overall wasn’t very good due to its hackneyed storytelling and even worse acting. The 2017 film lovingly pays homage to both with its clever eggs and minor twists on this already well established story but manages to ascertain its own identity without abandoning the source material.
Bill Skaarsgard is fantastic in this movie, creating a Pennywise unique on his own while channeling a smidge of Tim Curry's and King's version of the character. This incarnation of Pennywise is certainly more inhuman, often speaking in high and low tones like a psychotic Scooby-Doo, making the character more unbalanced like a wild animal even going so far as to sound like his mouth is watering when he's talking to the children. Adding to this, Skaarsgard employs a lazy eye for Pennywise, almost as if he’s not looking directly at his victims like they’re not worth his full attention and so the moments he does directly look at someone, you know things get serious. His interaction with the kids is creepy and demented but you could tell they were having a blast on set. Skaarsgard brings back that joy of horror that Robert Englund used to bring with Freddy Kreuger and it made me extremely happy seeing someone have so much playing such an evil character.
The Losers Club consists of a well-rounded group of actors, creating an ensemble that I hope has more time in the second film but are well developed enough in this to be truly endearing. The cast had great chemistry and it was easy to differentiate between characters not only by their stereotypical traits but also by their fears. Jaedan Lieberher is the always stoic and stuttering Bill Denbrough, the leader of the group, who does a great job of being the group’s anchor and Jaedan’s stutter feels almost scarily natural. Finn Wolfhard is the tryhard Richie, whose loudmouth antics stem from talking about getting laid to extreme cursing when confronting Pennywise’s nightmares, making him an absolute hoot. Finn emulates this character perfectly and there was rarely a moment where I didn’t laugh at something he said. My only complaint is that he looks like he stepped off the set of Stranger Things as both IT and Stranger Things share some of the same themes and time period. It was nothing too jarring but it took me out a bit. The hypochondriac Eddie is more electric than I thought he’d be. Every second he’s talking about how this and that will infect you or make you sick made him more adorable than annoying, especially when you meet his mentally abusive mother.
Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh and Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hanscom are my favorites of the ensemble and they have the most adorable chemistry. Ben’s shy isolated attitude and his abashed love of New Kids On the Block always brought a smile to my face and how fast and hard he crushes on Beverly to her ignorance is something I feel is deeply missing from teen cinema. Beverly herself is no slouch. The pain and fear emanating from Sophia’s performance is heartbreaking as she has to not only deal with Pennywise but her abusive peers and her sexually abusive father.
Mike and Stanley are probably the only outliers of the group as their characters are introduced fairly quick and then completely forgotten. Mike, played by Chosen Jacobs, has one of the most tragic backstories but after discovering the heartbreaking source of his fear, he floats into the background once the film reaches the third act. Also, strangely enough, the film tackles homophobia, slutshaming, and molestation but doesn’t at all touch on racism. When bully Henry Bowers beats on Mike in the movie, Henry doesn’t explicitly state that it’s because he’s black, but because he wants him to leave town. The filmmakers may not have been courageous enough to bring it up with everything happening in the world right now but I think it would have been necessary social commentary. Stanley is much worse off and probably shouldn’t have been included at all. If you know IT, you know what happens to his character and it makes the development of his character that much worse, but if don’t know IT, you’d probably forget he was even in this film at all. Even his fear is unexplained. Everyone’s fear usually correlates to their real life experiences but Stanley’s is a painting in his father’s synagogue, which is never revealed to be anything substantial.
The town of Derry is another beast altogether. Through every background character introduced, you could see Pennywise’s evil seeping into this small town...or is it the evil in the town that attracts Pennywise? Every adult is made out to be absolutely despicable and untrusting, strengthening the kids’ resolve to handle everything on their own.
Some minor complaints center more around the use of a character as the Third Act plot device and the overuse of jump scares. *Spoilers* They turned Beverly, the only female protagonist among six male protagonists, into yet another plot device for the boys to rescue. While Beverly is a strong character and she’s never portrayed as a damsel in distress, I just wish they didn’t have to resort to using the oldest trick in the book for the plot to progress.
The jump scares that include the scare chord trope were well overplayed after the first couple of scenes. The fear sequences are full of build up and great execution but the occasional scare chord intersecting between titillating imagery annoyed me more than entertained me and it happened at least once during every sequence and they’re not implemented in an interesting way.
I absolutely loved the fear sequences and having them take place during the day is unique, much like its television predecessor. We’re so used to Freddy Kreuger’s machinations at night that we’ve never seen what his little brother Pennywise could do during the day. The first scene between Pennywise and Georgie tells you that this movie is not messing around; unfortunately, it never pushes the boundaries further after that. While the sets and fears became more intricate and better crafted, the violence is incredibly tame following the opening. The digital effects are questionable in some scenes such as any time Pennywise runs toward the camera with monster teeth but it holds up for the most part. There’s a brilliant sequence with a projector I absolutely loved, giggling in excitement as it transpired, as well as a moment where Pennywise is holding a balloon in front of him that says “I heart Derry.”
Director Andres Muschietti really strove to do some interesting things with the camera work too such as stabilization on Pennywise's face while the rest of his body is dancing or moving, exuding that otherworldly presence the character emits. One of my favorite shots, and easily one of my favorite shots in horror now, is in the opening when Georgie tries to escape and the camera positioned directly overhead and Pennywise's arm reaches out from the sewer like it were coming from a portal to another dimension, reaching for Georgie as he so desperately tries to crawl away.
IT is a solid fun film with familiar flaws. It starts off incredibly strong and never reaches that high mark it set at the beginning but it is still a good time nonetheless. If they can manage to focus more on some of the forgotten characters and turn up the suspense, Chapter Two will be something to behold.