A group of bullied kids band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.
Director: Andy Muschietti.
Starring: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Olef.
2017 hasn’t been a banner year for films based on the works of Stephen King, The failure of The Dark Tower pretty much assured that. But Director Andy Muschietti (2008’s Mama) has pulled off a minor miracle by resurrecting what was once a troubled production, and resurrecting It (based on King’s 1986 novel) for a new audience that’s been starved for something decent that’s based on King’s work for a long while. But while this production is indeed the best film based on the work of the esteemed Mr. King in ages, does it live up to all of the hype?
In other words – is It scary?
The children of Derry are in a fight for their lives. It seems like there’s a kid disappearing every week, and no one knows whether they’re still alive or not. Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) has recently lost his younger brother to this plague of disappearances, but while his parents (& other parents) choose to accept the loss as just that, a loss, Bill decides to do something about it. So he gathers together a group of kids who call themselves “The Losers Club”, and together the group learn about the curse that hangs over the town of Derry. A curse that comes in the form of a malevolent, orange haired clown that calls himself Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard).
In a welcome surprise, the opening scene of It proves that director Muschietti has no fear of the material (or of the film’s R rating), and immediately goes for the gusto. As you’ve no doubt already seen (thanks to the film’s trailer), Bill makes his younger brother a paper boat to play with outside during a rainstorm. The boy happily chases his toy down the water engorged curbs of his neighborhood, until it ends up going down a sewer drain. He reaches in, but can’t grab the boat, when suddenly – Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) appears. Initially smiling, and near mirthful in demeanor, he chats the boy up, gaining his trust. But eventually, Pennywise strikes, and in a surprisingly violent encounter, ends up tearing off the boys arm (with his mouth!), before dragging him into the sewer, never to be seen again.
From that point forward, It becomes a combination coming of age drama and horror story neatly wrapped together with a bloody bow. Of course, none of this would’ve worked without some of the most spot on casting I’ve seen in any film. The kids are all terrific actors, and all of them lend their characters an air of authenticity, and genuineness that I haven’t seen in a long time. Comparisons to Stand By Me (1986), and maybe even The Goonies (1985) are probably eventual, but these kids (& their performances) stand on their own. The aforementioned Jaeden Lieberher (Bill) stands tall and true as the club’s leader. Jack Dylan Grazer makes for a perfect neurotic, pill popping Eddie. Jeremy Ray Taylor is perfectly cast as the hopeless romantic that is Ben. Wyatt Olef gives the role of religious do gooder Stanley heft. Chosen Jacobs gives the character of Mike a palpable weariness that comes from both a previous tragedy, and the fact that he’s African American. Finn Wolfhard is the always wise cracking Richie, and Sophia Lillis gives the character of Beverly as the (possibly) molested, definitely mistreated female of the group. In a way, they all come together once she’s introduced, at the very least they hit full stride once she comes aboard. Beverly is probably the most complicated member of the group, and Lillis is perfectly cast as the catalyst that keeps the group together.
Of course, none of this would work without an actor that could make people forget Tim Curry’s terrifying performance as Pennywise in the original made for TV film of 1990. I think it’s fair to say that Mr. Curry was the impetus behind countless nightmares as the evil, child eating clown. Happily, Bill Skarsgard proves himself to be Curry’s equal. His version of Pennywise is a malevolent, high pitched, buck toothed, instrument of terror that makes an impact as soon as he appears. He radiates evil, and his horrific chuckle will send chills down your spine. Skarsgard is obviously having a ball here, and his performance is both chilling and unrestrained in it’s ferocity.
So It has a great director, a really good script (by Chase Palmer, Gary Dauberman, and original director Cary Fukunaga), and a near perfect cast propelling it along. Does that mean it’s perfect? No, ultimately I did have a few issues with it. First off, the film is way too long. With a running time of 135 minutes, It sometimes slows to a crawl, although admittedly I wouldn’t know where to begin cutting it as each scene feels intrinsic to the tonality of the film. I also began to have a problem with Finn Wolfhard’s character Richie after awhile. He began to grate on me the wrong way, I began to find him annoying. I think I’m gonna be alone on that island, but it is what it is. Additionally, some of cinematographer Chung-Hoon Chung’s scenes are overly dark. Especially when the kids are in Pennywise’s lair, fighting for their lives. I could barely make out who was who in some of those scenes.
But the worst offense It is guilty of is that it just isn’t very scary. It has tons of atmosphere, and oodles of dread too, but I honestly didn’t find any of it very scary at all. There were moments where I found myself a bit creeped out, but those moments never turned into outright fear. Does that make It a failure? Not hardly, as I believe it’s gonna terrify most of it’s audience, and it maintains a believable sense of dread throughout it’s running time. But in the end, It didn’t scare me much at all – and that’s the point isn’t it?
But have no doubt, It is rip roaring entertainment that will scare most of you, and entertain all of you! It’s creepy, scary, chilling, and proof that in the right hands the works of Stephen King can still be potent and effective on the big screen. Don’t let crap like The Dark Tower influence you in deciding whether or not to go see this one. Despite it’s failure to really scare me, It is still the most atmospheric horror film I’ve seen this year by far. I have no doubt that you’ll love it!
It – 3.5 out of 5 shrouds.