Film Review: 'It'
Twenty-seven years after It's original TV miniseries adaptation in 1990, Stephen King's killer clown returns in a two-hour, better-paced horror/thriller film that's truer to the source material and much better because of it.
Although heralded as a semi-classic, Pennywise the Clown's first turn on the screen is unabashedly 90s in style, substance, and just about everything else, being a sort of Goosebumps before the Goosebumps TV show was a thing. While there's an indelible campy appeal to it, at a total running time of three hours - mostly caused by cuts back and forth between the characters as children and adults and a handful of trite subplots that divert our attention - the effect wears thin before the halfway mark.
But this vastly different cultural climate calls for a renewed focus on King's original novel, and the view that director Andy Muschietti takes is one of gruesome horror and themes of conquering those fears; the film is at once more cerebral and outwardly entertaining as a result.
Muschietti's It zeroes in on the ever-famous Loser's Club of seven kids in their childhood and their many harrowing, personal encounters with It. Bill Skarsgard's performance as Pennywise truly sells the show, as he brings a sadistic, twisted sense of humor and thrill to the infamous clown. He is a chilling compliment to the film's wise use of visual effects, which never once goes too overboard so as to be absurd. Whether it's a gigantic Pennywise clawing his way through a wall projection or massive amounts of blood geysering from a bathroom sink, effects are strategically used to sell the scariest aspects of Pennywise, and his trademark predatory teeth are just the beginning.
Yet there's also something to be said about the kids, who are a tightly-knit ensemble cast with personalities as diverse as their fears. As their friends and family disappear around town, the kids have their own experiences with Itand then band together to solve the local mystery. Its most notable member - on a surface level, anyway - is the bespectacled pottymouth Richard (Finn Wolfhard, coming to us from Stranger Things, and he's an absolute scene-stealer at that.
Although the film dips in and out of the eyes of each of the seven kids, its most memorable moments come from future horror novelist Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), whose little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) has the famous yellow raincoat encounter with Pennywise to open the film. In all of its trend-setting shock value, that scene is the perfect prelude to even more frightening things It has up its sleeve.
Credits to writers Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman for making that possible, as their screenplay turns out to be one of the film's more surprising strengths. Our dialogue with the kids is varied and without a dull moment or pause, and their stories follow a neatly resolved arc of dealing with their deepest fears. The movie's setting of Derry, Maine may be fictional, but through the eyes and ears of the kids, the threats are disturbingly real.
Muschietti and company eschew unnecessary subplots that marred the 90s adaptation to focus purely on the childhood phase of King's tale. It's a smart way to tackle the 1000-plus pages of source material, as condensing the entire narrative into one two-hour film would simply not do it justice. As a result, the film is always interesting and always engaging, minus the predictable jump scares in all the predictable spots (but that's par for the course in horror). The narrower scope of this film on their adolescence versus adulthood only serves the story better, laying a rich foundation for its recently-announced sequel - maybe in another twenty-seven years, if we're sticking with the mythology.
But we'll be happy to enjoy this popcorn-muncher again and again while we wait.
Rated R. 135 minutes.
Written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman (screenplay) and Stephen King (novel).
Directed by Andy Muschietti.
Starring Bill Skarsgard, Jaden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis and Finn Wolfhard.