Hello, horror, it’s been a while. You clean up real nice, I see.
A departure from the genre’s usual hum-drum, barely-eye-raising antics, Andy Muschietti’s re-adaptation of Stephen King’s benchmark novel is an absolute joy. While not perfect—no film is—this largely-faithful page-to-screen is equally terrifying and charming. Let’s get into it…
First of all, the backdrop of Derry (filmed largely on-location in Ontario, Canada) is the right amount of homey and Halloweeny—the perfect blend of old-town feel and the encroaching chill of autumn to kick-off the unofficial start to the season (for the audience). The subdued color palette is a stark contrast to the novel’s past imagining, and It has me in that Halloween state of mind, already. The atmosphere created by the kids’ discovery of tragic events in Derry’s past make the situation they face even more grave than in the 1990 mini-series. They have their own problems—bullies, abusive parents, looming young-adulthood—all compounded and exacerbated by an eldritch entity that thrives on their deepest fears. One can feel the weight of affairs in the air as these kids try to find out what’s going on in their town and how to stop It.
The kids deserve their own paragraph. Everyone in the cast is phenomenal, but I was surprised most by Beverly (Sophia Lillis). She takes center-stage for a lot of the film, even leading the boys when they don’t know how to, and giving them encouragement when they need it. The defiance of her father, in the face of everything else, is a crowning moment for the character. Jaeden Lieberher as Bill is meek, due to his stutter, but a definite leader. His quest for vengeance against the thing that killed his brother grows and grows the closer they get to the final showdown with It, and offers a nice ending to his personal arc. I was a little unsure about Stranger Things‘s timid Finn Wolfhard as loud-mouthed jokester Richie Tozier, but the kid’s got a wide spectrum of talent. Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is great as the learned one in the group, and so is Chosen Jacobs as the struggling “outsider”, and Jack Dylan Grazer as the Club’s other comic relief. As a group, too, all the kids work really well together, on-screen; their chemistry is undeniable, and where I couldn’t tell the difference between some of them in the early stages of the film’s marketing, I’m sad to see them go, now (as the second chapter of the film will be focused more on the characters facing It again in 2016, returning to Derry as adults).
Pennywise is an iconic character, both within King’s writings and without; pick up any one of those cheesy, “all the horror classics sitting in a movie theatre” t-shirt, and among the likes of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, the Xenomorph from Alien, and Freddy Krueger, will be sat the Tim Curry portrayal of Pennywise. Now, I think, we can have another iteration of the love-to-hate character sat next to (not replacing) Curry’s, as Bill Skarsgård has delivered a masterful performance as the titular creature. His charm when first confronting little Georgie Denbrough borders on disturbing, but makes the murder bittersweet—especially being so brutal. That, on top of he always talks as if about to break into maniacal laughter adds to the utter insanity of the character, as true in the novel; Pennywise is unhinged, and it remains unclear—as we don’t get a peek into the larger world of It in this film, but I have my hopes up for the next—whether or not this was always the case, or if It’s rumination under the streets of Derry for however long It’s been here has made It that way. As Skarsgård said in an interview, the character is “beyond even a sociopath, as It’s not even human. It’s not even a clown.” Hints at the larger scope of the novel appear in the movie—the biggest and boldest of which coming in the forms of Bill’s LEGO model of a turtle (assumed to be a totem inspired by his off-screen visit with Maturin, It’s nemesis) and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it look into the Deadlights—which I’m hoping Muschietti and his crew have the aspiration to dive into later; it just makes the entity of Pennywise allthemore horrifying, discovering It’s true, yet unfathomable, origins.
This Pennywise, however, is a far-removal from Curry’s portrayal, as was intended by Skarsgård; he wanted to learn from Curry’s performance—not try and “do” Curry, but make Pennywise his own, identifiable character to viewers decades from now, looking back. The costume shows Pennywise’s age, the not-so-perfect façade hints at the entity’s mental state, and Its mannerisms and actions speak to a greater, more terrifying core evil than any of the Losers Club could ever imagine. It’ll be interesting to see how Skarsgård and Muschietti shape the character for It’s return in Chapter 2 (next year…?). The forms It takes are numerous and creative; instead of relying on pop culture, as in the book, the kids all see different and very shocking things as their deepest incarnate fears—a leper for hypochondriac Eddie, a torrent of blood and her stranglehold father for a maturing Bev, and the guilt of his brother’s passing made manifest in Bill’s constant vision of a dis-armed Georgie, to name a few. Some thought was put into this It-eration, and I’m happy to say that I wasn’t at all disappointed.
Some weak-points of the film fall outside of the filmmakers’ control. Choosing not to delve into the darker universe of It forces the story to go the route of the mini-series, where the kids basically beat Pennywise into submission. He toys with them too much during the final confrontation, and so misses several opportunities to destroy them, once and for all. I could feel the hatred Pennywise has for this group of kids growing, consistent with their proximity to actually finding, hurting, and—quite possibly, Pennywise fears—killing It. I’d love to see a director’s cut (or, at least, a super-cut of the two parts, once the second releases on Blu-Ray) that goes even harder into the story to showcase everything there is that’s great about the book; an actual, blow-by-blow adaptation of the book. I’m glad this telling remained so true to the source material, and that Its makers still had the mind enough to omit what needed to be omitted (readers of the novel know what I mean).
Overall, Andy Muschietti’s It blew me away. Well-defined characters—in which anyone can see themselves, everyone has their favorite Loser—with their own strengths, weaknesses, and relatable fears ground the story, while the film’s titular antagonist defies expectations, delivering appropriate doses of darkness and drama. I wasn’t expecting the soundtrack this film gave me, either, but it’s great…and varied; it’s the ‘80s, after all. Enjoy edge-of-your-seat tension the entire two-hour and fifteen-minute run-time, as you never know when—and in what form—It will pop up next.
Consider my tickets for It, Chapter 2 already bought.
Final ‘Risk Assessment: *****/
Next review: Mother! (Sept. 15th)