Every twenty-seven years, in the sleepy little town of Derry, Maine, an evil, shapeshifting creature that dwells in the sewers beneath, awakens to feed off the children of the town, their fear drawing the entity to them. Spookily, it has also been twenty-seven years since we last saw Pennywise the Dancing Clown on our screens since the 1990 miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s seminal classic horror novel which featured the legendary Tim Curry as the red-nosed monstrosity.
Many young adults will tell you of a lurking fear of seeing this show as a youngster and being partially traumatized by the many-toothed beast. While remembered with nostalgic dread, the miniseries had a fairly limited budget and ultimately wasn’t the best adaptation of King’s lengthy work, despite Curry’s memorable portrayal.
Many complain about the mass amount of arguably unnecessary remakes of beloved franchises but IT was a perfect candidate for a modern retelling, with today’s vastly superior practical and computer-generated effects combined with one of the most iconic horror villains, up there alongside the Xenomorph, Freddy Kruger and Michael Myers and thankfully IT is a definitive success, improving on the 1990’s version in virtually every way.
Originally to be written and directed by Cary Fukunaga (of True Detective and Beasts of No Nation fame) and starring Will Poulter as Pennywise until Fukunaga apparently had some disagreements with the studio over the creative direction the project was going in and this where the responsibility fell to Andy Muschietti (who previously directed the effective little horror Mama in 2013) to helm the film while still keeping most of the Fukunaga screenplay. Here, much like his previous works, IT is very well made and beautifully shot. There are many shots that still linger in my mind and they weren’t necessarily in scary scenes which I very much appreciated as someone who longs for more carefully crafted horror movies. I was nervous that the movie was just going to be a series of cliché jump-scares, but the atmosphere Muschietti creates is one of constant creepiness but not without sacrificing what it for me the strongest aspect of the film, The Losers Club; a group of young bullied miscasts whose strong bond of friendship is integral to the plot.
Lead by Bill (Jaeden Lierberher), whose brother Georgie who has been missing for 8 months, the Losers soon discover exactly why Derry has a higher missing persons rate than any other town and that these tragedies have been occurring since the formation of the town itself. Each of them encounter Pennywise as he takes the form of their deepest fears and they soon realise that it’s the one creature terrorising them and swear to destroy it once and for all. The fact that only they can see the monster adds extra tension as it really isolates them, as any cries for help with fall on oblivious and deaf adult ears. The group, made up of the overweight, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), only girl of the group Bev (Sophia Lillis), the foul-mouthed yet witty Richie (Finn Wolfhard), germaphobe Stan (Wyatt Oleff), haunted orphan Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and the sickly Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) are immediately endearing. These kids are 100% the heart and soul of the film and the young cast are totally convincing as close friends on the screen and each of them has their own distinct personality (especially Bev and Richie who really impressed me). If you fail to get the audience to care for them, the movie simply doesn’t work as it is their friendship that provides them with their main weapon against Pennywise but I’m very glad to say that these young actors absolutely got me on their side and despite being a horror movie, there are some genuinely sweet moments of childish playfulness and comradery that make you happy they all have each other.
Of course, while the kids are an integral part of the audience getting invested a story is only as good as its villain and what we get here is a truly chilling one. Played by another member of the ever-growing Skarsgård acting clan, Bill Skarsgård is immensely terrifying as the demonic clown, bringing an almost demented joyfulness to IT without sacrificing the hungry, almost animal-like qualities to the creature. Here he is helped by an outstanding blend of CGI and prosthetics that make it a challenge to tell where one ends and one begins. Pennywise’s voice, untouched by any Bane-like voice effects is eerily hair-raising and the actor brings a great sense of physicality to the role.
A well-done to the make-up and costume are deserved too, their Victorianesque Pennywise may go overlooked but they have commendably created a new, yet familiar look for the antagonist without directly copying the look of the 1990 version.
Despite King’s book being over one thousand words, Muschietti does a great job of knowing what to expand upon and what to omit. There are some controversial and perhaps unnecessary scenes from the book that would’ve been very hard to put on-screen and maintain the movie’s tone (and 15 rating) and I applaud the decision to spilt the novel into two chapters as well, as it gives us more time with the kids so we actually become invested when we revisit them as adults in Chapter Two. The second movie will be a bigger challenge as it’s where the novel dips into some very bizarre territory and I’m expecting the sequel to stray much further from the source material. Another issue will be recasting the children as adults. Do you go for star power or some relatively unknown newcomers? Either way I’m excited to see where the kids end up and if they can regroup to once again to do battle in the clown plagued town of Derry.
I really have few complaints with this movie, ticking all the boxes that a good horror movie should and breathing fresh life into the franchise. IT ends up being my favourite horror of 2017 so far and I highly recommend any fans of the genre of the previous miniseries to check it out, especially the IMAX version which just adds a whole new dimension of fear.
Until next time…
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