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“I’m Pennywise, the Dancing Clown! Now we aren’t strangers, are we?”

“IT” (2017):

Whatever you do, do not take a shot every time you read the word “it” in this review. I cannot be held accountable for the consequences.


Crappy jokes aside, “IT” is good – really good. It’s not likely going to de-throne the likes of “Shawshank”, “Shining”, “Green Mile”, “The Mist”, or any of the other heavy hitters, but this new 2017 envisioning from Andy Muschietti of the goliath Stephen King novel is likely to be remembered in a positive light with King fans and general horror movie-goers alike for a long time.

Now, I confess that (and admit it, so did you) that I had a few major concerns when this film was announced. For one, a King adaptation is no small task; there’s a reason why he is known as one of the greatest fiction novelist of all time. His stories are so rich with character and depth that a filmmaker has to bend over backwards a hundred times over to even come close to the vision, and that’s talking about an experienced veteran. Muschietti’s only true claim to fame up until now was 2013’s “Mama”, and c’mon, nobody remembered that movie until just now. Be that as it may, any aspiring artist has to cut their teeth on something, and at least “Mama” was an honest attempt to enter an increasingly growing circle of young horror talent beginning to invade Hollywood, which clearly worked. The second area of doubt came from the initial stills of Pennywise, and while that is not to say he was lacking in the fear factor, I was worried the film might miss the flavor of the character and his deviously playful side in favor of something too serious and one-dimensional.

Fortunately, after some impressively spooky marketing campaigns via well-crafted trailers, all my apprehension melted away and was circumvented by some of the highest expectations I have had for a horror film since I cannot honestly remember. Normally, the whole “remake” side of cinema is something I’ll only entertain if there is a lack of any better choices that day; although, “IT” hooked me in deep, and the wait for its arrival was without a doubt worth every minute.

The story as far as the film goes still circles The Losers Club, a small band of kids in the rural town of Deery, Maine in 1989, whom are easy targets of bullying and are also dealing with issues on the home front at various degrees of severity. The group’s leader, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is grappling with the loss of his little brother, Georgie, whom is assumed dead by his parents, but Bill is still insisting that he is merely missing and is lost in the sewers of Deery. 

Bill’s friends are also a bit on the side of that Georgie isn’t only missing, but they still choose to support Bill in his endeavors while attempting to enjoy the start of the summer season out of school. One-by-one the narrative reveals the greatest fears for each of the children, and these fears manifest into encounters with Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard), and when they realize that said foe is not going to leave them alone until they are all dead, the Losers Club then decides to unravel the mystery that is Pennywise, and truly the town of Deery itself, in an attempt to defeat this evil once and for all.

I know that sounds like a really oversimplified account of the plot, but I must stress that the finer details of the story and the development of the characters are crucial to the film’s impact. What I will tell you, and what most of you likely already know, is that this “IT” film is only half of the novel. The mini-series from 1990 attempted to tackle the whole massive book with mixed results, whereas Muschietti thought it best split it in half so all of the intensity could be put on the shoulders of the Losers Club as kids. While I cannot predict how well the currently unmade “Chapter 2” will translate to film, for the time being, this was a rather brilliant move that works extremely well in the film’s favor. Hell, I would be okay if it stopped right here for how solid “Chapter 1” proved to be.

Before I go any further, I will address what is likely one of the biggest questions hanging over this movie: How is Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise? Obviously I cannot stop you, though my best advice is to not bother comparing him to Tim Curry’s embodiment in the original project. In short, Skarsgard did a formidable job and really embraced the role to make Pennywise an undeniably terrifying thing. Trust me, the theatre had a great crowd last night and he had people jumping and whimpering all night long. It was awesome. Skarsgard isn’t going to replace Curry by any means to the point that Curry will be forgotten, but I do believe the two can co-exist much like Ledger and Nicholson’s Joker roles. CGI is exercised in this rendition, of course, yet it is nonetheless sparingly used to allow Skarsgard to do his thing.

Pennywise is undoubtedly entertaining as hell to watch, however the true revelation of “IT” belongs to the Losers Club, or more specifically, the talented bunch of young actors that played them. Some get more screentime than others, seemingly on purpose, but Jaeden Lieberher (Bill), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben), Sophia Lillis (Bev), Finn Wolford (Richie), Wyatt Oleff (Stan), Chosen Jacobs (Mike), and Jack Grazier (Eddie) all brought their A-game and killed it in their respective roles.

 “IT” doesn’t pull any punches either; some of the subject matter is uncomfortably heavy for their characters, and at one point or another, if not more, these characters take a serious beating in this movie. This is legitimate Rated-R horror, and at the same time, did allow for a bit more freedom for the actors to curse like sailors in often humorously-effective tones that you would expect from kids that age. There is something to be said about a cast and a director being able to pull off a concept like this that would normally fail, and I have to tip my cap to that.

Does the whole thing work in its entirety? No, not quite. The pacing and editing did feel a bit rushed and choppy at times, and there were a few instances where the script tried to interject comedy into a wholly serious situation that just didn’t land. Easily my heftiest gripe though, and one I didn’t really know was a problem until the end, was the character arc of Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), the film’s main antagonist outside of Pennywise; nothing specifically to do with the performance, Hamilton did fine, but he was made to be a significant player in the first half of the film, only to be disposed of almost instantaneously near the climax. Don’t get me wrong, Henry’s backstory is equally as tragic to the degree that he fringes upon being a homicidal maniac, and I understand he’s used more as a tool for the Social Club to find their bravery, though, to me, I couldn’t fight the thought that there should have been something more to him than what came to pass. It’s not a crippling distraction as there is already enough intensity in the Third Act to hold everybody’s attention, but this is a review and you know how it goes.

The bottom line is that “IT” is a genuinely great effort with the kind of heart, humor, and thrills that are often lacking in a Stephen King movie. Muschietti shows that he not only understands the material, but also what he was up against with a signature performance like Curry’s and did not attempt to fully replicate it. Additionally, and this is a huge win in my book, he looks to have an eye for suspense, because while there were breaks here and there, “IT” is relentless in its tension and fully utilizes its rural backdrops, backstories, and well-timed jump scares to consistently keep the audience on edge with an already unsettling villain in a child-killing clown. It’s far too early to start talking potential Top Ten of the year, but I will be keeping this title in mind come December.

Highly recommended!
“IT”: 8.5/10
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