By George Tuck
Director Andy Muschietti’s fresh new take on ‘IT’ (2017) has easily been one of the most talked about films of the year. Many fans of both the original Stephen King classic novel and the 1990 campy, low budget nostalgia-fest TV mini-series adaptation appeared skeptical; many unsure if the reboot could compete with Tim Curry’s iconic take on ‘Pennywise the Dancing Clown’. However, I say without a shadow of a doubt that this the best horror film I have watched in years.
Though ‘IT’ isn’t on Shawshank Redemption levels of King adaptations, it certainly pushes very quickly to the top. For those unfamiliar, the 145-minute blockbuster revolves around the Loser’s Club, made up of seven pre-teens, attempting to free the town of Derry from ‘IT’, who lures children in with his alter ego: ‘Pennywise the Dancing Clown’. For me, my main worry was whether Bill Skarsgård’s (Divergent) ‘Pennywise’ could give both a terrifying but also humorous performance, akin to Curry’s, especially when considering that he was drafted in as a replacement for the busy Will Poulter (The Maze Runner). However, in my likely unpopular opinion, Skarsgård’s not only went above and beyond my expectations, but even managed to eclipse Tim Curry himself. The choice to voice ‘Pennywise’ with such broken and unnatural dialogue, evident immediately after meeting him, creates an unearthly, unnatural feel to the character. This, combined with his joyous delivery allows for a terrifyingly manipulative portrayal, more effective as a horror icon than the previous incarnation. Also, huge kudos to the design and makeup crew for producing such a twisted and evil looking clown.
I must praise the ensemble cast of young actors in this film, who managed to make me nearly forget they were acting. The dialogue in most scenes felt natural and fluid – a real rarity for a modern horror. Particularly, the friendship between loud-mouth Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) and hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer) had the correct level of lovingly crass banter and genuine care. It showed me just how good child actors can be and why Wolfhard (Stranger Things) is so hyped as one of the best child actors in Hollywood. A similar loving bond is shown in moments throughout the movie between the stuttering leader Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) and his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). Bill’s search for Georgie is initiated by an early and gruesome encounter, which showed us that the film wasn’t afraid to go down a route of gore and child abuse, and to do so delicately. Scott’s portrayal of innocent Georgie is truly a highlight of the film and although most of the child acting is top quality, his being the youngest in the film warrants extra credit. However, the other characters are where we must mark ‘IT’ down. Though Beverly Marsh, Ben Hanscom (Sophia Lillis & Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Bill’s love triangle is well-constructed, if not bordering on an overload of movie romance, it does take away the development of Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff) and Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). They are instead given very basic storylines, with the latter losing his main role in King’s novel to the now beefed-out role of Ben. This doesn’t necessarily hurt the film, but it made it hard for me to care about both Stan and Mike when they were in peril.
Within the genre of horror, the film shines better than most. Though it does of course fall foul to the modern day trope of the loud jumpscare, it almost earns the moments, building them with a slow burn reveal and an eerie score, allowing ‘Pennywise’s frenzied attacks on the Club to feel calculated and alien. In particular, standout scenes include Bill’s confrontation with “Georgie” in his basement, as ‘Pennywise’ slowly emerges from the water, as well as the expositional projector scene, which ‘IT’ takes over, projecting itself in a stop-motion style as the score crescendos and you’re left clutching your seat in fear. As a secondary horror plot, the development and mental downfall of sociopath Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) felt well-built, with the movie doing a good job of showing Henry as someone both giving way to violence, but whose dark past lends a sense of pathos. However, the choice to divert Henry’s fate until the inevitable sequel felt like rather a cop-out. Finally, as a reader of King’s work, this did not hinder my watching of the film. The scenes were well created, the chemistry between the cast was apparent, the scares were largely heart-racing and Muschietti’s unpredictability dropped my jaw a few times, to the point where I believed a character I knew survived had died. Furthermore, many of the changes, such as the infamous sex bonding scene’s omission, were well replaced and not missed.
Overall, Muschietti’s reboot is an incredible and largely faithful adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. Because of this, it rewards us with largely the same intense character and world building, alongside spine chilling horror that the author is famous for. Though there are hurdles, such as lack of depth in some character areas, most complaints are merely afterthoughts. Instead, my immediate response is simply “turn on all the lights”, because ‘IT’ is a genuinely terrifying film and I am left begging for the sequel.