Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Premise: Based on the novel by Stephen King. In the small town of Derry, Maine, children are stalked by a demonic figure who looks like a circus clown (Bill Skarsgård). A group of kids band together to confront the evil.
What Works: It is one of the great horror stories and this version tells the tale well. The crux of It is the relationship between the kids who are terrorized by Pennywise the Clown and the core cast of this movie is very good. The members of the Loser’s Club are played by Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Chosen Jacobs. Each of the kids is a distinct character and they are convincing and credible as individuals and as a group. The standout performance is by Sophia Lillis as Beverly. She is terrorized by Pennywise but also copes with abuse in her home and Lillis provides a complex and nuanced character. Also impressive are Jaeden Lieberher as Bill, whose brother was killed by Pennywise, and Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben, a heavyset boy who is socially awkward. The content of this film only represents about half of the story from Stephen King’s novel, with the rest of it planned for a sequel, but what’s here works as a film unto itself. It concludes at a logical end point and the movie doesn’t feel like half of a story. It is also very scary. There is an atmosphere of dread running through the movie that is punctuated by jump scares but also alleviated by humor. The filmmakers don’t shy away from putting these kids in jeopardy and thereby tap into the fairy tale qualities that made King’s original story so powerful. The filmmakers of It use sound especially well. There are some haunting uses of asynchronous audio and the score by Benjamin Wallfisch is also effective. The one significant update to 2017’s It is changing the time period from the 1950s to the late 1980s. The filmmakers do an excellent job capturing the time period in a way that feels natural. The outfits and cultural touchstones are included in a way that mostly feels organic.
What Doesn’t: It was previously adapted as a television miniseries and in some respects the new film feels redundant with the 1990 version. The filmmakers of 2017’s It have not significantly improved the telling of the story or presented a radically different take. In fact, a few scenes of the new It are almost identical to the miniseries, namely the opening sequence in which a young boy is taken by Pennywise. This version isn’t bound by the standards and practices of a network broadcast and so the filmmakers include more gore and foul language. However, the feature film version of It is not much stronger for its excesses. The gore is used judiciously but it is rarely shocking and the cursing among the kids is sometimes overplayed; this is the one aspect of the young characters’ interactions that feels artificial. There are a few of critical areas in which the remake of It falls below the 1990 version. One of its faults is the cinematography. Contemporary horror films have a bad habit of making the imagery murky and that is the case in It; the action in the haunted house and in the sewers is difficult to decipher. Another misstep is making Beverly a damsel in distress; this was not the case in King’s novel or in the miniseries. This late plot development doesn’t make sense and it diminishes the film’s one female character. The other fault is the portrayal of Pennywise. Bill Skarsgård does a good job in the role but he has nothing on Tim Curry’s performance in the 1990 version. They are both menacing but Curry was oddly charming in a way that made him more frightening. In all, this version of It is equivalent to the first half of the miniseries but the movie never escapes its shadow.
Bottom Line: It is a competent and scary horror film. The movie may not be as memorable as the 1990s miniseries but it is a complementary effort. Because this is one half of the story it is impossible to judge the movie as it relates to the whole but as a standalone work It is a successful scare picture.
Episode: #665 (September 17, 2017)