Movie Review: ‘IT’ (2017)
Director: Andrés Muschietti
Cast: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton
Plot: The town of Derry, Maine, sees unusual numbers of children dying and disappearing. A group of outcast children have shared experiences of seeing horrifying visions and an evil clown. They learn that these are linked to the missing children and set out to stop the monster.
Review: IT is possibly the most famous and renown of Stephen King’s works being both a popular novel and mini-series that ranks as a horror phenomenon. It’s best remembered for Tim Curry in the role of Pennywise, the evil shapeshifting clown, who is considered one of the scariest monsters in cinema. Even though it has been 27 years since that production – which has not aged well and feels campier than scary these days – a new version is going to carry high expectations.
Luckily for me I’m not a fan of the novel or the mini-series, so I’m not going to getting nostalgic for anything they changed or left out. In fact, most of the changes from the novel are for the best in this new version.
Unlike the source material, which cut between the characters as children and adults, this film only tells the story of the children and their first encounters with Pennywise (Skarsgård). At the helm is Andrés Muschietti who impressed with his debut feature Mama and has been attached to a range of projects from a live action Robotech to a Masters of the Universe film (by range I mean things from the 1980s). Muschietti has made the smart move of creating his own film here and not throwing in call-backs to the original version, something that always feels weak and awkward. It implies that they’re not confident in their own version – I’m looking at you, Ghost in the Shell – so this film comes out strong from the get-go.
One of the most notable changes comes in the visions summoned for the children of Derry. The setting has moved from the 60s to the 80s, and the ‘scares’ are no longer based on werewolves and the Mummy and the Gill Man because…that would be a bit lame. Instead we get some intense sequences that build up a sense of dread and deliver some frightening imagery. The use of over-cranked, jerky moving creatures is one that I find freaky, so it worked as intended. There’s little in the way of jump-scares, which always makes for forgettable horror. This version is more likely to generate nightmares than the previous.
There are some smaller changes that help flesh out the characters and world while dodging around some of the more silly King tropes. Henry, the bully (Hamilton), is given some screen time with his abusive father to give him motivation beyond being yet another blindly psychotic Stephen King thug. They don’t touch on where Pennywise came from or what he is, which works because the novel’s explanation is underwhelming to say the least. Perhaps this will turn up in the second film, but for now it’s fine without it.
Oh, and there’s no 11-year-old gangbang. I am fine with this because what the actual fuck Stephen King. You absolutely did not need that plot element.
Having child performers as your leads is always going to be challenging, but the director has clearly worked hard with his cast. Some are better than others, with stand-outs being Wolfhard as Richie demonstrating some solid comedic timing and Grazer maintaining a nervous twitch throughout the film. Skarsgård does a great job with Pennywise, absolutely putting his own spin on the monster and unnerving the audience with ease.
There’s a lot of positives here, but unfortunately it has some issues. Whilst not as long winded as the bloated novel and mini-series it still feels like a long film and we get diminishing returns on the scares as a result. There’s a clear point where they could have cut out a chunk and fast-tracked to the end, but instead we just have to wait. In spite of the length we don’t get much character development for half the kids, with only one or two scenes to set them up. Considering they’re stretching this out over two films it would’ve been nice to be more invested in these characters.
If you’re not a fan of clowns then, yeah, stay away. Otherwise this is good horror freakiness.
Rating: EIGHT out of TEN