Once upon a time, horror writer Stephen King plopped out a massive monster of a book that inspired terror, drama, and one of the best mini-series of the 1990s, starring king-of-camp Tim Curry. Now, some 27 years later, the Hollywood world has spit out a new remake in the hopes in recapturing the fear that miniseries instilled in a generation.
IT is story of seven kids, each with issues, who live in the small town of Derry, Maine where every 27 years, a dark entity comes and kidnaps and eats children to sate its hunger for fear. The kids, known as The Losers Club, are tormented by this entity, who takes the shape of a clown, all while fighting off a weirdly homicidal bully and the stark indifference of the adults around them. The second half of the story, the one about the adults they grow up to become to take on the evil once more, will hit the silver screens sometime in 2019 or 2020
Now, I could spend the entire review talking about the differences between the film and the miniseries, but that would be kind of pointless. Because of the time shift, the kids now grow up in the 1980s rather than the 1960s, so it ends up being a beast of a different nature. Sufficed to say, if you liked the miniseries, you’ll probably enjoy this new rendition as well.
First and foremost, the cast is what makes this movie. Every single actor plays their part to perfection, bar none. The standouts to me are Finn Wolfhard, of Stranger Things fame, as Richie, the usually inappropriate clown of the group, and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie, the hypochondriac with the overprotective mom. The two have a comic chemistry that is unmatched but also manage to shine on their own. Bill Skarsgård is impressively creepy as Pennywise/IT, and does actually manage to grab some of the Curry-esque ridiculousness to give you a chuckle here or there. Sophia Lillis as the sole girl of the group Bev is equally blends cool-girl-untouchable and vulnerable, able to dominate the screen with her presence and bad-ass-itude.
I’d like to take a moment, however, to address probably the creepiest performance of all, even more so. Now, Stephen King antagonists are known for being…well, over-the-top is the nice way to put it. Murderous Henry Bowers, an older bully who torments The Losers Club is probably at the top a lot of ridiculous bullies who were overly violent for no reason. However, Nicholas Hamilton’s short performance as Bowers just adds a level of clarity to the character, and he does genuinely feel like a real threat, an unstable teenager boy on the precipice of total psychopathy. He likely won’t win any prizes, but he should.
A lot of people have complained about how the narrative is too choppy or poorly paced, but as someone who tends to be sensitive to that sort of issue, I didn’t notice it. I definitely wished we had gotten more time with Stan and Mike, two kids in the Losers Club who get their spooky moments with IT but not much else. Additionally, I get that sort of “snap shot” feeling where we move from one scene to the next with very little connection, but when you have seven different characters to get through in a haunting movie, it can be hard to fit that all in. I don’t find it overall distracting.
The cinematography and direction are excellent. The 1980s aesthetic is strong but not overly nostalgic, every kid feels like a kid in their actions and movements, and even the settings feel homey. It’s beyond technically competent, it’s technically genius – a horror movie that refused to drenched in the dank and dreary the whole time.
Andrés Muschietti, best known for Mama, really brings his A-game to the director’s chair. Nothing ever feels forced or hurried, all of the action is fluid and connected, with even background moments adding to the creepy and unsettling feel. The special effects are used just right — most of it looks like practical effects and the rest is only used to heighten the creepiness and uncanny valley effect. It feels like a lot of thought was put into each scene, and it keeps it from feeling stale.
The ending is strong in some ways, but desperately anti-climactic in others. For one, the special effects helps to add some otherworldliness to the monster’s den. However, the solution of just having the kids beat up the clown as it shape-shifts just feels a little…trite? Comedic might be a better word. There doesn’t feel like there’s any real danger because the threat is being hacked around like an over-sized piñata. There’s no real sense that the kids have triumphed over their fears, except for Bev who nearly kills her sexually abusive father that was her living nightmare. Still, it could have been worse, but it was not nearly as satisfying as the rest of them film.
The jump scares are a-plenty, and it just feels a little bit like a cheat in a movie that’s supposed to be about a monster unafraid of standing in plain sight. Some are done well, but often it feels like it undercuts Skarsgård’s performance and overall creepiness. Still, the horror is present and never feels like it’s trying too hard, which is finally coming back into vogue.
Ultimately, I think the movie’s biggest issue is that its too short, and that’s saying something for a movie that runs over two hours and is getting a sequel. To give everything the full rounding and impact it needs, the film needed at least another 30 minutes, for the characters to take in the situation and come to terms with their altered reality. Henry Bowers is dispatched with haste, Bill gets over his brother’s death a little too quickly, and Ben just feels tacked on as a love-triangle extra. Still, there’s no denying that the good outweighs the bad.
IT Movie Review
A town, a clown, and very little that lets you down.
IT is a wild ride, and while the horror relies a little too heavily on jump scares, it is clear that this is a film that understands how to unsettle its audience. It’s a lot of fun without being too overwhelming, and is definitely a must-watch for King fans or anyone looking for a spooky good time.