Movie Review: ‘IT’ (Second Opinion)
Plot: Based on the classic horror novel by Stephen King, IT centers around Derry, a small town in Maine not unlike any other town in America. However, this is not an ordinary town. For in the streets of Derry a monster stalks its children disguised as a killer clown known as Pennywise. IT feeds on their fears-and their flesh. While the adults of the town pretend the horrific events that occur every 27 years aren’t happening, seven kids know the truth. Self named “The Losers’ Club,” these seven must band together and face their own fears to destroy IT and rid the town of IT’s evil.
Read Gfunk’s review here!
Review: IT isn’t just my favorite Stephen King book, it’s my favorite book period. As I was approaching this review, I realized that anything I wrote would probably be biased to some degree. However, I recognize the fact that once the rights are sold, the creative control passes to someone else. Having said this I’m going to try to approach Andy Muschietti’s version of Stephen King’s novel without too many comparisons to the book. Suffice it to say that for fans of the novel, I think you’ll be very happy with the finished product and that the 2017 iteration of IT captures the spirit of the book, if not every single detail. The changes are not jarring and feel completely organic.
One of the changes that made the most sense involved moving the children’s portion from the 1950s to the 1980s. The adult portion of the film is to be set in the present day so it makes the most sense. IT definitely conveys the nostalgia factor of the time and people who came of age in that decade (like myself) will definitely appreciate the references, whether it’s a Gremlins poster, fanny packs, or Ben Hanscomb’s (Jeremy Ray Taylor) obsession with New Kids on the Block. It helps lend an authenticity to the film that I was hoping for. (That last one by the way is one of the funniest parts of the film.)
Equally impressive was how well director Andy Muschietti and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung were able to capture the town of Derry. Derry looks appealing and pastoral on the outside, but there is an inherent meanness about the town reinforced by the entity that’s inhabited Derry for time immemorial. You get the sense that Derry is IT and IT is Derry. It’s virtually impossible to separate the two. There’s a general malicious indifference that rears its head over and over such as when an old couple notices Ben being terrorized by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his cronies…and drive right on by. It’s not that the townspeople (specifically the adults) don’t see the atrocities going on around them, it’s that they don’t want to see them. That’s a main reason why Pennywise kills with impunity, because there’s no one to challenge him.
Speaking of the adults, Muschietti and Chung present them all in a manner that they just seem slightly off, greasy, and vaguely disturbing. It’s a brilliant choice by Muschietti, and Chung’s filmwork completes his vision as many of the shots are at odd angles with intentionally poor lighting. This is especially true of Eddie Kaspbrak’s (Jack Dylan Grazier) mother, an overweight shut-in, consumed with keeping Eddie safe and healthy. The closest comparison I can make regarding the adults: it’s like the Derry adults are the adults in the Peanuts cartoon that say “whaa whaa” all the time, except through the eyes of David Lynch. Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) shines in a scene between her and her father that exemplifies how the adults have become infected by Pennywise.
Oddly, despite IT‘s commercial and critical success, many have commented that the film isn’t particularly scary. In a way I get where they’re coming from because IT is one of those horror novels/movies that transcend the genre. However, I couldn’t disagree with these people more. IT scared the shit out of me. The film starts with a gruesome death that sets the tone. Scares from there are numerous but not overwhelming. Two in particular stand out. The first is the one most have seen in the previews where Pennywise hijacks the slide projector. Trust me there’s more to it than what you’ve seen in the trailers. The second involves an iconic part in the book where dead children talk to Bev through her sink, which subsequently erupts with blood. I was so impressed with how well done this scene was, with the blood being so bright it evokes Argento’s work on Suspiria. Other parts, like the part with Pennywise at the house on Neibolt street (which I swear to God looks like they ripped directly from my mind) terrify as well.
What I find remarkable is that the film possesses some tremendous scares but manages to be a slow burn at the same time. There’s a pervasive sense of dread that carries throughout the entire film, accentuated by a solid, if occasionally overbearing. score from Benjamin Wallfisch. Aside from some dodgy CGI here and there (which I attribute more to the low-budget than anything else) and a slightly underdeveloped Henry Bowers, the scares work, and work well.
However, IT falls apart if not for the two main ingredients, Pennywise and The Losers’ Club. Thankfully, both are superb here. Bill Skarsgard (Hemlock Grove) faced a monumental task when he took on the role of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a part Tim Curry made iconic with the 1990 mini-series, and boy did he answer the call. That’s not to say he’s any better or worse than Curry, just different and equally impressive. In fact I’d say he’s closer to the Pennywise of the novel than Curry was. Skarsgard balances Pennywise’s zanniness and malevolence perfectly. You don’t know from one minute to the next whether he’s going to crack a horrible joke or rip your throat out. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul? Well that window looks inside an empty house. At times Pennywise looks like he’s gazing into an alternate plane of reality as my friend Tim commented. Can’t wait to see where Skarsgard takes this character in the second film.
As for The Losers’ Club, their chemistry is so on point, it’s almost scary. Each has their own personalized experience with Pennywise who feeds off their worst fears–for Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) it’s his guilt over the death of his parents, Eddie’s hypochondria, Richie’s clown phobia, Stan’s terror of a distorted painting, and of course Bill’s (Jaeden Lieberher) loss of his brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). It is these individual experiences that ultimately unite them together to destroy Pennywise. Furthermore, the cast effortlessly juxtaposes the monster scares against real life fears: abandonment, self-image, possible sexual abuse, and guilt.
While collectively the Losers are great, several actors standout. Finn Wolfhard kills it as Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier, combining brilliant comedic timing with heartfelt emotion. Richie uses humor to deflect his fear and Wolfhard (of Stranger Things fame) captures this. Lillis damn near steals the show as Bev, the lone girl in the Club. In fact of all the Losers, she faces the worst problems, having to deal with possible sexual abuse from her father and tormenting junior high girls at school. Her scenes with Ben are just as sweet as you’d expect, although she pines secretly for Bill. However, the one person that impressed the Hell out of me was Grazer as Eddie. I can’t praise this kid enough. Every physical characteristic, neurotic gesture, speech pattern, and more are right on point.
Other than Logan, IT is the first film I’ve wanted to see in the theaters for a second time this year. The film terrifies, delights, makes you laugh, and even makes you think. I can’t imagine a better adaptation and I’m eagerly anticipating Chapter 2.
My rating System:
0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
You can follow me on Twitter at @DarthGandalf1