“Time to float!”. Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) prepares to lunge. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott
Plot: When children begin to disappear in the town of Derry, Maine, a group of young kids are faced with their biggest fears when they square off against an evil clown named Pennywise (Skarsgård), whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries.
IT is the film adaptation of author Stephen King’s 1,138 page 1986 novel, helmed by Andy Muschietti, director of 2013’s Mama. IT had already been adapted to great success in a two-part 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry in the title role. While the miniseries itself doesn’t hold up and is spotty in quality at best (with Curry being the miniseries’ only redeeming feature), it holds a fond place in the hearts of those who grew up watching it giving Muschietti’s new take on the story big shoes to fill.
Instead of condensing King’s lengthy tome to one movie, IT (titled as IT: Chapter One in the movie itself) decides to only focus on the segments of the story portraying the Loser’s Club’s encounters with IT as children, with the adult segment of the story being saved for the sequel due in 2019 (however Muschietti has made it clear he intends to release a four to five hour director’s cut merging both films into one). This works in the film’s favour. Not only is the childhood segment the strongest part of the original novel, it allows the film to remain more focused instead of jumping around between multiple time periods.
Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) encounters “IT”, otherwise known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.
The film also brings the events of the story forward from 1958 to 1988. While this allows IT: Chapter Two to be set in the present, it also manages to serve the movie brilliantly. By having the movie set in the late 80’s, it manages to make the movie a love letter to Hollywood around that time; with the film ending up as a wonderful mix of The Goonies, Poltergeist and A Nightmare on Elm Street. In effect, IT becomes a genre throwback to the coming of age adventure movie and the supernatural horror movie. And it’s a mix that works. Muschietti manages to blend the two genres deftly and manages to create a truly unique horror picture with the end result; an excellent coming of age picture that just so happens to also be a film about a child-eating monster disguised as a clown.
IT strikes gold however with its cast. The seven children who make up the Loser’s Club are all wonderful young actors who will have a long future ahead of them is they chose to stay in the business. Each of them delivers a fantastic performance. The standout of the group however is Sophia Lillis as Beverly. Lillis, looking eerily like a young Jessica Chastain (potential casting for IT: Chapter Two maybe?), delivers perhaps the most rounded and strongest performance of the film. Beverly is perhaps the character that faces the most emotional strife during the film (apart from Bill). With an emotionally abusive (and implied to be sexually abusive) father at home, along with vicious rumours being spread about her by girls from school, Beverly has a lot to deal with without Pennywise coming into play. Lillis manages to make Beverly a truly engaging character, managing to make Beverly the most sympathetic and identifiable member of the Losers. Lillis’s performance shows she has great talent and will have a long and promising career ahead of her.
Beverly (Sophia Lillis) hides from her tormentors. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.
Also a young actor of note is Jaeden Lieberher as Bill. As with Lillis with Beverly, Lieberher has the more meaty material to work with out of the other kids. Bill spends most of the movie searching for his younger brother, Georgie (kidnapped by Pennywise in the movie’s opening scene) and being in denial of the fact it’s incredibly likely Georgie is already dead. Lieberher deals with this material incredibly well, showing a lot of talent. It’s not easy to carry a film at 14, but Lieberher handles it with ease, showcasing himself to be an actor of talent.
Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) hunts for the missing Georgie. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.
The rest of the Loser’s Club are made up of fine young actors, even if none of them quite get the amount of material and range that Lillis and Lieberher get. All of them deliver great performances and manage to round out the supporting cast incredibly well. Of particular note is Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame who plays Richie. Wolfhard shows fantastic comedic timing and delivers most of the best lines in the film, with nearly all of them being incredibly hilarious. As for the rest of the group, everyone gets at least a few moments to shine with only Chosen Jacobs getting the short straw as Mike. After a few scenes near the start, Mike is absent until near the end of the second act which makes it difficult for Mike to make much of an impression, enough to make you wonder if several scenes with Mike were left on the cutting room floor. But despite this all of the kids do a fantastic job and you can’t help but wish there was a bit more time spent with them; perhaps this could be incentive for Warner Bros to invest in an extended cut of Chapter One, prior to the merged cut?
The Loser’s Club. From left to right: Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Bill, Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Beverly, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Richie (Finn Wolfhard). Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.
But of course, the reason everyone wants to see this movie is for IT itself; Pennywise. Bill Skarsgård takes the role of the murderous clown and manages to do an excellent job. Skarsgård’s Pennywise is a completely different beast to Tim Curry’s. Portraying the character as more ravenous, more beastly (Pennywise even drools hungrily when talking with Georgie) and ultimately feels more inhuman. Skarsgård doesn’t feel like a man dressed as a clown, he feels like an inhuman monster which is perfect for an interdimensional shape shifter (however IT’s origins are only implied in this movie, presumably being saved for the sequel). There’s just something eerily off-putting about Pennywise and Skarsgård’s movements and performance help create a horror villain that is truly unsettling. A moment where Pennywise uncurls himself from inside a fridge is truly disturbing to watch, especially since only minimal CGI was used meaning that most of it is actually Skarsgård. Pennywise isn’t just creepy though, he also has some humour to him which makes him even more unsettling. I’d rather not describe Pennywise’s sense of humour, if only to preserve some of the film’s more surprising and unsettling moments, but safe to say it’s as twisted as the character itself. Skarsgård is truly unhinged in the role, with this being one of those rare villain performances where the actor is completely unrecognisable. If Skarsgård’s Pennywise is better than Tim Curry’s is down to personal taste. In my opinion, Skarsgård’s is superior due to being more unsettling and closer to Pennywise as he was in the original novel along with a truly unhinged performance by Skarsgård but Curry’s Pennywise was also great. It ultimately depends on what you expect from the character, but for my tastes, Skarsgård’s won out and I can’t wait to see more of him.
Pennywise on the prowl. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.
IT is an absolutely gorgeous film to watch. Muschietti clearly has a wonderful directorial eye and it’s showcased magnificently here. The film just comes alive on the screen. From beautiful shots of the town of Derry, to dark and enveloping sewer tunnels, the film has a great vision and look. Muschietti really knows how to direct a horror film. Sets come alive with his directing, Pennywise’s presence envelops the film even when he isn’t present. From darkness and shadows giving the impression he could be anywhere along with the general feeling that something is watching and waiting. Indeed, the only times this feeling isn’t there are when the Losers are together and having fun, but even then there’s a hint of menace; as the kids play in a river, you’re just waiting for something to reach up and grab them. It’s also remarkable how unsettling even the people who aren’t Pennywise feel, with authority figures all feeling unnatural or, to some, worse than Pennywise. It’s this, along with the directing, that aid an air of dread to the entire film; making us really feel that there’s no one these kids can turn to.
What should be mentioned is how surprisingly funny the film is. While the film isn’t exactly a comedy, there’s plenty of humour scattered throughout. But none of it ever feels unnatural, in fact it goes hand in hand with the scares. It really manages to capture the spirit of King’s novel.
“You’ll float too.” Pennywise stalks his next victim. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.
But what’s a horror film without its scares? Well I’m glad to report that IT is incredibly scary. Muschietti manages to deliver the scares in a big way, using a mixture of traditional jump scares with more unique moments; playing with audiences expectations as well as managing not to overuse Pennywise, only using him when it’s called for. An excellent touch is how Muschietti drags out the tension; you know the scare is coming, but you’re not quite sure when, or what, is actually going to occur. As a balloon slowly drifts towards one soon to be victim of Pennywise, you’re on edge, waiting. The film’s opening, which shows Pennywise luring in and making off with Georgie, is incredibly disturbing to watch. We the audience know what Pennywise is going to do. What makes this scene so impactful is how he does it and indeed, how much the film is actually able to do in this sequence. It’s impactful, shocking, scary and memorable and really sets the tone for the entire film. But the film’s scariest moment has to come from the projector scene. As the Losers examine slides of old Derry maps, the projector gets a life of its own and images of Pennywise begin to appear. What follows is an incredibly tense sequence of waiting as the film plays with your expectations as what you expect to occur doesn’t quite occur in the way you expect, leading to the film’s most terrifying moment. That said however, a few too many of the film’s jump scares seem to rely on Pennywise running at the camera and screaming which can get old after a while. Regardless though, IT is a terrifyingly scary experience.
Pennywise lurks in the darkness. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.
Another are where IT excels is its score. Benjamin Wallfisch takes scoring duties here and does a magnificent job. Alongside the more traditional Insidious-esque score for the scary parts, Wallfisch delivers an almost John Williams style score for some parts of the score. This is also blended with perhaps the creepiest version of “Oranges and Lemons” you’ll ever hear, serving as Pennywise’s theme. All together this creates an excellent soundtrack, emerging as one of the more memorable in the horror genre in quite a while. With many identifiable themes at play, I hope Wallfisch is able to return for the sequel to further develop them.
Pennywise advances on the Losers. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.
IT is a stellar adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, Muschietti has managed to craft a stellar horror film that manages to be true to the spirit of King’s text while putting his own identifiable spin on it. Bolstered by excellent performances from its child cast and an utterly unhinged performance by Bill Skarsgård along with fantastic visuals, some truly chilling scares and some surprisingly hilarious humour; IT is a must see horror film that emerges as not just the best horror of 2017, but perhaps the best horror film in years. Utterly terrifying, this film needs to be seen.