It Review- Genuine Scares, Humor, and Heart

Posted September 10, 2017 by Thomas James Juretus in Movies

Director: Andy Muschietti

Screenplay by: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman

Release date: September 8, 2017

Cast: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton

In 1986, author Stephen king created one of his most memorable and terrifying characters in Pennywise the Dancing Clown in his novel It. Pennywise is the embodiment of pure evil, whose favorite prey is the children of Derry, Maine. He appears every 27 years, and is capable of taking on the form of whatever his victim fears most. In 1990, the novel was turned into a miniseries on ABC, and Pennywise was brought off the page and onto the small screen (and into our nightmares) with an excellently frightening performance by Tim Curry of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame. Now, 27 years later (no small coincidence?), Pennywise is again brought to life, this time on the big screen by actor Bill Skarsgard (Hemlock Grove, Atomic Blonde). So, does the 2017 film version of It gives us reason to fear clowns again?

Boy, does it ever. With an R rating and a great screenplay by writers Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation), and Gary Dauberman (Annabelle: Creation), director Andy Muschietti (Mama) delivers a superb adaptation of King’s horror masterpiece. While the scares may not be wholly original, they are nonetheless quite effective. The feeling of dread is established in the first few minutes of the movie, and pervades almost every frame until the credits roll. not only does Muschietti deliver the frights, but he also delivers a great group of characters that endear themselves to the audience through plenty of humor and heart.

The film, said to be part 1 in a two part series (the second will deal with the characters returning to Derry as adults), deals with a group of preteens who call themselves the Losers Club. The group forms a friendship, bonding over being ostracized by their fellow classmates and suffering at the hands of bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his cronies. Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) has a stutter. Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is the new kid and overweight. Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) has to deal with cruel rumors about her. Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) has a motormouth that gets him into trouble. Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) struggles with being a black kid in a mostly white town. Eddie Kasprak (Jack Dylan Grazer) suffers from asthma and an overbearing mother. And Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) tries to please his father as he approaches his Bar Mitzvah.

Things begin in 1988 (updating things from the novel’s 1958 setting for the kids) during a rainy day. Bill makes a paper sailboat for his little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), who promptly takes it out for a sail in the gutter on the street in front of their house. The little sailboat takes off, and to Georgie’s dismay, goes into the sewer. This sets up the first appearance of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), who charms Georgie and too late the boy learns of the clown’s true nature. One year after Georgie’s appearance, the group notices that other kids have gone missing, and Ben reveals his gathered research about Derry’s dark secret. They learn about the terrifying Pennywise, and realize that they must confront him.

But first, they must conquer their own fears as It knows what scares them.

The movie does a nice job of matching the fears to each of the group’s particular fear. With things being updated to the 80s, the classic horror movie monsters used in the novel are replaced with different forms, each personalized for the child being terrorized. These can take on the embodiment of a frightening figure or a horrific memory. The young cast does a great job at handling their own personal encounters with evil, and their coming together over their fears provides the heart of the film. Not only is It about the power of fear and how it can destroy a life, but it’s also about the power of friendship, and how those friendships can lift the group up and help them to survive. The actors sell this friendship and make it all very believable, which is a good thing, as otherwise it would be hard for us to care about their fate.

As for Pennywise, Skarsgard’s performance easily rivals that of Curry’s in the 1990 miniseries. He dances, cavorts, and contorts, using a beguiling sense of humor that can mask his horrific intent. This is a terror that can be quietly and creepily observing from the background, his appearance usually heralded by the appearance of a red balloon. At other points, he springs ferociously into action, charging at his victims while shrieking at the tops of his lungs. He implores his victims to come float with those he’s previously taken, his eyes hypnotic and terrifying. His lair is a sight to behold, and is one of the many well crafted sets in the film. The lair evokes both feelings of awe and horror in equal measure, and makes a fitting stage for the group’s big showdown with the malevolent clown.

The movie’s soundtrack makes good use of the era’s music, featuring songs from groups such as New Kids on the Block and Anthrax. While the score might not stick in your head after you leave the theater, it does a nice job in establishing mood and complimenting the visuals on screen.

The diversions from the novel to the silver screen work nicely, though they may not please all the fans of King’s novel. Certain scenes were wisely left out, as they would have created a furor due to both the cast and the characters they portray. Altering the forms Pennywise takes makes sense in the wake of changing the setting from 1958 to 1989. 1980s kids would be more accustomed to horror movies, thus robbing the classic movie monsters of their ability to instill fear. Making the fears more personalized makes Pennywise even more insidious, and it makes it all the more believable when the kids each face and then overcome those fears.

Muschietti also places a lot of nice little touches in the background, like seeing Lethal Weapon 2 or Nightmare on Elm Street 5 on the movie theater’s marquee. Like the Netflix series Stranger Things (which shares cast member Finn Wolfhard), the movie evokes a fond sense of nostalgia for the time period, one that is closer to many of the movie’s target audience. King wrote his novel in 1986, and at that time the 50s setting fit well, selling the plot point of Pennywise appearing every 27 years. Seeing how this is part 1 of the story, moving it to the 80s will fit it being set in the modern day for the likely part 2.

2017’s It pulls off what The Dark Tower failed to do–pull off a superb adaptation of King’s writing. It has a great cast all around, with the kids forming the believable friendship of the Losers Club and Skarsgard’s terrifying performance as the evil Pennywise. The soundtrack makes good use of 80s tunes, and the visuals evoke a nice tone of nostalgia as well as horror in the embodiments Pennywise takes on to frighten his victims. The film has genuine scares, maintaining a sense of dread throughout its 135 minute running time. Not only does the film deliver on the frights, but it also delivers the emotional bond between the group, and it does so with plenty of humor and heart. This is a superb adaptation of King’s novel, and one of the best (if not the best) adaptations of King’s work onto the big screen. This makes it well worth the trip to your local theater. With how well this film was done, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for part 2.

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus