This past Friday Stephen King’s IT finally came to the big screen, as many of you know 27 years ago (how eerie) It was made for the small screen in a two part mini-series that aired on ABC. Of course, being on network TV that version (thought pretty faithful) was tamed down a bit. This version though being a hard R in theaters didn’t have to shy away from any of the scares or gore from the book.
The movie kicks off with probably the most iconic scene from the book and mini series and that’s with Georgie sailing his paper boat (that his brother Bill made him) down the street and meeting Pennywise the Dancing Clown. One thing that always bothered me about that scene, is what parent would let their child who is as young as Georgie go out side alone and play in the rain? It would be one thing if it were a sunny day and he went out and wandered off, but man, the book takes place in the 50’s and this movie it’s the 80’s and in both those eras (and even today) most parents would tell Georgie to get his ass back in the house before he catches a cold.
So Georgie meets Pennywise and becomes the movie’s (though not the Clown’s) first victim. This scene is more gruesome than the mini-series version, and I must say I like the less is more approach the ABC version had to take. I felt it was a little much.
After that we’re introduced to the rest of the Losers’ Club at school. The four main friends Bill, Eddie, Stan, and the wise-cracking Richie. It’s the last day of school and the four are talking about what they’re going to do during the Summer. Bill is still fixated on his brother’s “disappearance” along with the other kids like Betty Ribson who we never meet but see her mother waiting outside the school hoping her daughter would walk out. It’s brief scene, but as a parent it’s absolutely heartbreaking. Mrs. Ribson knows her daughter is dead but can’t come to terms with it and shows up at the school hoping to see her daughter walk out.
We then meet Beverly who gets literal trash dumped on her by other girls in the school while she’s hiding in the bathroom. This scene I wasn’t a big fan of because it was so cliched. The girl being picked on by the other girls for being different in the bathroom is something we’ve seen time and time again, shoot the Power Rangers movie had a similar scene, in fact both Kimberly in MMPW and Beverly here do the rebellious thing and cut their own hair (and it looks like salon quality). After being picked on Bev meets up with husky new kid Ben, who drops his headphones and Bev discovers he’s listening to the New Kids on the Block, which becomes a nice little running joke.
Lastly we meet Mike Hanlon, who in the book and even in the mini series plays a huge part is given really very little to do to where he could almost be left out of this version all together. Mike’s character, along with his family’s backstory played a huge role in the book and the mini series because the kid chapters of the book took place in the 50’s with wide spread racism. This racism plays a big role in one of Pennywise’s biggest murders, that being of the burning down of a popular black night club in Darey, which Mike’s dad was killed in. Mike, like Ben is also a big history buff and a lot of the clues the Losers Club gets about Pennywise comes from Mike’s research. I find it odd that Hollywood, who is the champion of inclusion cut the importance of the only black character in this film. Just plain odd to me.
The Losers Club doesn’t just have Pennywise to deal with, they also have the sociopathic bully Henry Bowers, who is so over the top that he’s just not believable. Yes I know this is a movie about a killer demonic clown from outside space and time, but the rest of the movie is very grounded so when you have a bully carving his initials in a boy’s stomach it just pulls you out. Luckily the movie (unlike the book) down plays Henry quite a bit. He’s only around for the big moments, like rock fight, and the end of the movie.
Now, I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because this movie is one you should experience with little knowledge as possible. There are scares and great tension building throughout the film and given that I had read the book and seen the mini series I knew some of the scares were coming. However, the movie does do a good job of throwing a few curveballs at those of us who read the book.
This movie excels at a lot of things and probably the two things I think it does exceptionally well is being subtle (see the Mrs. Ribson scene above) and building tension. Throughout the film, even in the lighter moments, there is this feeling of dread. Even when Pennywise isn’t on the screen he’s in the back of your mind, just like the main characters.
Also, outside of being a horror movie, this is also a coming of age story for the kids. There is a lot of character development with the Losers Club as they grown throughout the summer dealing with Henry and Pennywise. They bound, break-up, and bound again to face off with Pennywise. What’s nice is that each character gets a “hero” moment that we all cheer for.
On a technical aspect the film is shot well by Andy Muschietti and for the most part he does a great job by showing us just enough and not too much (with the opening aside) and the scares feel genuine and almost never cheap like a cheesy found footage “horror” movie. This is a balanced build up of dread, either from the way the movie is moving or from the score.
The acting here is also top notch, all of the kids play their roles to near perfection, with Finn Wolfhard’s Richie stealing the show for me, especially a line he delivers at the climax. I get why some people might find his constant joking annoying (I’ve seen that in some reviews) but for me it works. Richie, like most class clowns, is trying to show false bravado in the face of fear (especially after we find out he’s afraid of clowns). Like most jesters he uses humor as a masking agent, so whenever there is a tense moment with the gang he tries to hide his own fear by making a joke. We all have that friend and if you don’t then you’re probably that friend and you’re not as funny as you think. Also Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh plays her part to perfection. Bev has the boys like putty in her hand through out the movie, and I wouldn’t be shocked is Sophia had her fellow actors the same way. She’s commanding and a very strong female character which we don’t often see in a teenager.
Last Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. He’s terrifying. The way he talks, the way he moves and gestures is very peculiar and sets you on ease. One thing I wasn’t looking forward to when I heard about the remake was seeing someone else as Pennywise. To me (and many others) Tim Curry was perfect in that role and probably wouldn’t be topped. I am happy to say that Skarsgard purposely didn’t trying to play it like Curry and because of that he gives off a scarier version of Pennywise that in several ways is superior to Curry’s version. For instance in the Georgie scene (sorry for going back to that but I really don’t want to spoil the movie for you) Skarsgard goes from friendly, to light hearted, to threatening, and then to terrifying all in a matter of a couple of lines and very seamlessly. You can tell Skarsgard was relishing this iconic role and gave it his all. This is the first thing I’ve seen of the young actor and I honestly can’t wait to see what else he does in the future.
Overall I really enjoyed IT. It is a very well made and acted film, with just the right amount of scares and heart that make it feel complete. The characters are believable and our protagonists are likable so at all times we’re rooting for them to win and are concerned when they’re in danger. In fact, in spite of reading the books I knew who would live or die, or at least I thought I did. There are definitely moments where I felt certain characters were in danger and that maybe the movie was switching it up on me. I appreciated that because it gave the movie real stakes in my view. And if I thought a “safe” character was about to die, I can’t imagine what people who had never read or seen IT thought. In the end this was a fantastic movie and I give it an 8.5 out of 10. Definitely see this one in theaters for the full affect, especially the slide show scene from the trailers. There is more to that seen and it’s going to be a lot scarier in the theater than on your TV at home.