‘It’ is here!
In the late 1980’s, the small town of Derry, Maine, is suffering a devastating catastrophe. Children are disappearing left and right, with no trace as to their whereabouts. One of the victims is a young boy, Georgie, who was last seen near a sewer playing in the rain with a paper boat made by his older brother, Bill. Six months after Georgie’s disappearance, Bill believes that Georgie is still alive somewhere in the sewer, and on the first day of summer vacation from school, he brings his group of friends, dubbed “the losers club,” along to help him search for Georgie. These friends include professional wise-cracker Richie, pessimistic Stan, and the neurotic Eddie. Eventually joining their group are bookworm Ben, meat-deliverer Mike, and poverty-stricken Beverly.
Each of these friends are shown to have difficulty being bullied by other kids in Derry, particularly the blood-hungry Henry Bowers. Their respective lives at home are not much better, with Eddie having an overprotective mother and Beverly being eyed sexually by her own father, to list a few. What these kids also share in common is that they are seeing visions of their personal fears taking physical form, including lepers, beheaded children, and even a female figure from a painting. These visions are all being controlled by a creature simply known to us as Pennywise, the dancing clown, who, in the opening scene, dragged Georgie into the sewer. The Losers know that “It” is responsible for the children’s disappearances, but the adults are not able to see what the they are seeing. So, on their own, the Losers plan to confront “It,” as well as their own personal demons, and try to rid Derry of the dark cloud hovering over it.
As most of us already know, this is not the first adaptation of the beloved Stephen King novel. The 1990 miniseries featuring Tim Curry as Pennywise was a mixed bag, to say the least. While it did have a good first half, some moments of good horror, and entertaining performances from both Tim Curry and the kids, it had too many cheesy moments and an underwhelming finale. Nonetheless, the movie was popular and helped bring more attention to Stephen King’s novel. The official announcement for the remake was made in 2009, but we would have to wait another eight years for the film to actually be made. Although the trailers for this film had some good scary moments, they were mostly vague, giving away little of the plot, and no one could determine the film’s quality. All I can say now after watching this film is that the long wait was worth it.
I was legitimately surprised by how excellent this film is, so much so that I am struggling to come up with other adjectives to describe it. I was worried that it would be identical to the original film, as was the case with this year’s awful live-action Beauty and the Beast remake. Thankfully, that is not true with IT. You can tell that director, Andres Muschietti, adored the source material and knew what the audience wanted to see. IT is oozing with atmosphere, and does not take itself too seriously, as the miniseries did. IT has moments of genuine humor, particularly when the “losers” are interacting with one another. This gives the film both a breath of fresh air and plenty of personality. Like Netflix’s Stranger Things, this version of IT almost feels like a Stephen King story directed by Steven Spielberg.
One of the main keys to the film’s success is the performance of Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise. Once again, I am not able to conjure up a proper adjective to describe the quality of his performance. Everything about him, including his appearance, the way he speaks (which includes drool dropping from his mouth), and the way he approaches his victims, all seem to go beyond any expectations. The first moment he appears on screen will bring eerie chills down your spine. This is a visually intriguing shot, in which the upper half of his face is hidden in the shadows, but his eyes are glowing. Shots like this can only be made with a good eye and a true intent to scare. Skarsgård’s performance is right up there with Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight in terms of how disturbing it is.
Another fear I had was the inclusion of CGI, which can usually dampen the impact of a horror film. In this film, there are only one or two times where the CGI is obvious, particularly during the “rock war” that “the Losers” have with Henry Bowers. These kids are getting hit in the head by pretty thick-looking and sounding rocks, but the rocks deflect off them like paper. Aside from that scene, the filmmakers did an above-average job of trying to blend the CGI with the practical effects, and director Muschietti does spectacular things with the pacing and timing to heighten the impact of the jump scares. In addition, the R rating thankfully allows the film to contain more gore. One can argue that imagining the gore is scarier, but I believe seeing the gore is necessary for film, a visual medium. Key scenes from the story, including Georgie getting his arm ripped off and Henry Bowers carving part of his name into Ben’s stomach, are seen in full view, and are even scarier when you know that these things are happening to kids.
Speaking of kids, the actors the filmmakers got to play “the Losers” are wonderful. Their performances are both entertaining and heartfelt, and the film’s tone allows more room to develop their characters’ personalities. One grand moment that stood out is the scene where Beverly is tormented in her bathroom by Pennywise. Blood blasts upw from the drain of the sink, exploding across the bathroom, and when her father walks, she realizes that only she can see the blood. The way Sophia Lillis, who plays Beverly, handles this scene, from the look on her face to the combination of sobbing and panting, is so gut-wrenching that I dare say she deserves an Oscar for that scene alone. I haven’t seen an ensemble of kids this good since Stranger Things. In fact, the actor playing Richie, Finn Wolfhard, played Mike in Stranger Things. Wow, I suppose Stranger Things was a major influence on this film.
Last month, I reviewed the cinematic version of King’s The Dark Tower, which I considered one of the better King adaptations. IT puts The Dark Tower to shame. While I personally can’t confirm exactly how faithful it is to the book, the film is scary, entertaining, and full of personality, and I highly recommend it. By the time the film was over, I was sitting in my seat with my jaw dropped, begging for more. Soon after, the ending title came up on screen, confirming that this is only part one of the adaptation, which made my jaw drop even lower. This is one of the rare times where I am begging for the sequel to come out sooner rather than later. Until it does, though, I suppose I’ll have to settle for Season 2 of Stranger Things.