For the past year, everyone in the horror community has been talking about IT. Many were skeptical at first… who on earth could be a better Pennywise than Tim Curry? Certainly not the androgynous Bill Skarsgård! But over these twelve months, pictures of the Hemlock Grove actor dressed in a grimy, old-fashioned clown costume have surfaced, turning skeptical heads just a bit. Then the cast of the Losers was announced, and the fact that Stranger Thing’s Finn Wolfhard was a selected to play the trash talking Richie Tozer perked up a few more ears. It wasn’t until the official trailer dropped in September that many of the skeptics changed their tune, jumping on board the IT remake train. But was the film all it was cracked up to be?
Directed by Andy Muschietti (as Andrés Muschietti), IT also stars Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Chosen Jacons, Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Oleff, and Jack Dylan Grazer. Since the 2017 film will only tell of their encounter with IT as children (taking place in the ’80s rather than the ’50s, a change from the book and 1990 miniseries), fans have to wait to see if this one will be successful before knowing if there will be a sequel with the battle between IT and the adults (changed from the mid-80s to more current times). But are those the only differences? If not, do the new changes even matter?
During an interview, Skarsgård described Pennywise like this:
“…such an extreme character. Inhumane. It’s beyond even a sociopath, because he’s not even human. He’s not even a clown. I’m playing just one of the beings that IT creates. IT truly enjoys taking the shape of the clown Pennywise and enjoys the game and the hunt… there’s a childishness to the character, because he’s so closely linked to the kids. The clown is a manifestation of the children’s imaginations, so there’s something child-like about that.”
This is honestly the best description of Pennywise I have seen yet. So, with that in mind, on to the review!
*SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD! Read on at your own risk**
Let me start by saying that, in the 40-something years I’ve been going to the movies in my small town, I have never seen such a huge line of people waiting to get into a theater. We got there over an hour early and the line was almost 100 people long. I have no trouble believing that the box office hit record numbers for the film’s opening night – and on a Thursday, no less! From what I saw after watching IT, there’s a really good reason why people are lining up in such numbers.
First of all, the acting was pretty fantastic and the chemistry between the boys reminded me of the bond in the kids from The Goonies, Stand By Me and Judd Apatow’s debut show Freaks and Geeks. Finn Wolfhard (Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier), Sophia Lillis (Bev Marsh) and Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie Kasprak) were phenomenal, totally outstanding and a joy to watch. Chosen Jacobs (Mike Hanlon) didn’t get many lines, but the scenes of him in the sheep barn were emotional and heartbreaking. Little Jackson Robert Scott (Georgie Denborough) stole the show. Seriously, that kid blew me out of the water. He was seamless in his transition from scared little boy to psychotic mini monster. I also have to give props to Nicholas Hamilton (Henry Bowers). This thin, wiry kid scared the shit out of me when he went full psycho on the Losers. The evil, excited gleam in his eye as he aimed his father’s pistol at the barn cat Jake Sim (Belch Huggins) held still for him nauseated me, and I do not use that term lightly.
The casting and dialogue in IT was impressive, to say the least. Scriptwriter Gary Dauberman’s (Annabelle: Creation 2017) final rewrite was spot on as to the Loser’s personalities. He wasn’t afraid to make the kids true to life and not storybook version’s of a parent’s dream child. They swore, they joked around, they talked trash about each other’s mothers, and they ragged on one another just like real middle school kids do. They were also not Hollywood perfect. The boys were either too thin or too heavy. They wore thick glasses that distorted their faces and clothes that didn’t quite fit. Sophia Lillis was just on the cusp of womanhood, frequently covered in shapeless dresses and overalls. Like Stand By Me, they were played by actors that really were in middle school. They were perfect.
Bill Skarsgård took the role of Pennywise and made it his own. The way he spoke, his voice stammering and catching, yet lilting and light, gave the Dancing Clown a psychotic, spine-chilling air. He hypnotized his victims with his upturned, penetrating stare and manic giggle. His version of Pennywise is happy to be chewing the flesh from your bones while you scream. He doesn’t pretend to be friendly just to draw you in. He’s a clown that loves his work.
Benjamin Wallfisch’s (12 Years A Slave 2013) score for IT is brilliant. I hardly ever notice things like the score unless I specifically listen for it, but the distinct, formidable music was undeniably paradisiacal. I haven’t heard a complete composition I’ve loved this much since Jaws. On top of this magnificent score, the ’80s soundtrack fit perfectly with the timeline as well as with the story arc. Songs like “Dear God” by XTC, “Antisocial” by Anthrax, “Six Different Ways” by The Cure and “Bust A Move” by Young MC were sprinkled throughout the film, giving it a wonderfully nostalgic vibe to someone who grew up in the 1980s.
I was also pleased to see how much closer IT was to Stephen King’s original novel in comparison to the 1990 miniseries. Although Pennywise does make his share of appearances, IT is known to appear as one’s deepest fear, so the creature took on the form of different things for different kids – hypochondriac Eddie sees a contagious, diseased leper, coulrophobic Richie sees a room full of clown dolls, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) sees his dead little brother, Georgie, pleading to come home, Stan (Wyatt Oleff) sees the creepy, distorted figure from a terrifying painting in his father’s office, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) sees Universal’s Mummy and orphan Mike sees his parents’ clawing hands as they burned to death in a fire. For Beverly, who met the other Losers while in the drug store buying her first box of tampons, IT materialized as both gushing blood and her own hair, which she cut off to to make herself look less feminine in an effort to keep the attention of her pedophile father off of her. This alone makes the 2017 version of IT so much more terrifying than the miniseries. No matter who you are, IT is going to scare you.
What Doesn’t Work
There’s not much to complain about regarding IT. The film itself is long – over two hours – so some may get antsy, waiting for the final credits to roll. To give background on all seven characters as well as a bit on the bullies, quite a bit of story had to be told, and that takes time. I wasn’t as impressed with the acting from Jaeden Lieberher, Wyatt Oleff and Jeremy Ray Taylor, but standing against Finn Wolfhard and Sophia Lillis, that must have been a hard row to hoe. I couldn’t stand the jerky animation and rather cheap looking CGI. I would have thought a movie this big would have had better visual effects artists on board. Body parts didn’t move properly and some things seemed way too fluid, which could have been intentional to make things creepier, but to me, it just looked rushed. Some things were different from the book – every reader’s lament – but that goes with the territory. There was no explanation as to why Ben saw the Mummy, but that’s really a tiny qualm.
I know a lot of people love the 1990 miniseries, but besides Tim Curry’s Pennywise, this film surpassed it in every way. In my opinion, Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise was much more terrifying, but the well of love for Curry’s version of the clown runs slow and deep, so it might take a nightmare or two before people realize the 2017 version is much worse, but in a good way. Everything from the acting to the score to the special effects eclipsed the first film, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I’m pretty bummed that it may be years before we see the second part of IT, but I am totally willing to wait.