IT opens with a young boy making a paper boat, one that will sail down a rainy street on a voyage that will ultimately plunge seven children into a nightmare that forever alters their lives. But those opening shots, poring over the piece of paper as it is carefully constructed into a vessel, hints at one of the greatest strengths of the film: there is a real texture to everything in it. Whether it’s the cursed town, a sinister, dilapidated house with its creaking floorboards and peeling paint, or the bonds of friendship forged between our heroes: everything has real weight in director Andy Muschietti’s film. And while there are significant departures from Stephen King’s original novel, and the 1990 miniseries seen by many, that sense of grounded reality ends up being the backbone of a great coming-of-age tale punctuated by moments of terror and crowd-pleasing scares. There are some moments and characters that don’t work as well as they should, but mostly Muschietti’s film soars on its strong dialogue, beautiful cinematography (impressively shot by Chan-wook Park’s usual DP, Chung-hoon Chung), sense of place, and a maintained feeling of dread throughout.
For the uninitiated, IT concerns one fateful summer in 1989 in Derry, Maine, a quaint everytown where there just happens to be an unusual amount of murders, accidents, and missing children every 27 years or so. Seven awkward children, all 12-13 years old, bond together over their shared social pariah status while slowly coming to grips with what is actually stalking their sleepy town. There is an evil that lurks in Derry, one that feeds on fear and children, and it is up to this “Losers’ Club” to join forces to face what lurks in the shadows.
The property of IT has been a hot commodity that has seized pop culture since Stephen King’s novel was first published in 1986. It gained further steam with a very popular TV miniseries in 1990 that featured an iconic role of Pennywise The Dancing Clown (played by Tim Curry). And now, 27 years later—after many false starts and different attempts, with much anticipation, worry, and excitement over what the director of MAMA and his writers have conjured from their beloved tale of adolescence and monsters—IT has returned to the screens. The resulting film is a fairly good horror adventure filled with great performances, some excellent scares, a few thrilling sequences, and a couple of missed opportunities.
There are many strengths to IT, but the foremost fact is that the acting across the board is terrific. The seven kids at the heart of the film feel like real people (again, that sense of texture and weight coming into play), having actual conversations and reacting in understandable fashions to unfathomable events. Of particular note are Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozier, the loudmouth comedian, and Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh, the lone girl of the group who happens to be stronger than the lot of them put together. While all of the Losers’ Club members deliver strong performances, these two shine (especially Lillis) in their roles and immediately ingratiate themselves to the audiences with their natural charisma and talents. Bill Skarsgård is perfectly menacing in his role as the embodiment of the great plague of Derry, Pennywise the Clown who is less inclined to make jokes and more apt to live in the dark recesses of children’s nightmares.
Muschietti and his screenwriters (Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman) do a great job of encapsulating that evil and indifference that permeates Derry and all of its denizens. It seeps off the screen and seems embedded into nearly every character in some form or another, like a location-based illness that slowly rots its host. Part of why this works so well is that the movie is so grounded in the reality it creates; there’s a sense of geography about this Derry and a real sense of where everything and everyone fits in. Furthermore, despite all of the laughs from the characters’ dialogue, IT also does a great job of making the audience feel the peril these kids are in; there’s a real element of danger and menace posed by Pennywise that threatens our heroes at every turn. This sense of setting, the naturalistic dialogue, and the incredible acting make it easy for viewers to buy into this tale and follow along on this journey into fear.
The main detractions with IT lie in small things that distract from this established reality. There are some less than polished pieces of CGI and F/X work that don’t exactly translate on the screen as successfully as they should, forcing audiences out of the mindset so cleverly and painfully constructed. Also, the character of Mike (played by Chosen Jacobs) is given short shrift in this version, allocating his role of historian to Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) instead, and basically robbing him of any sort of arc or real point of being in the story. While Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) is more intense (and psychotic) in this version, he is not as much of an omnipresent threat as he is in other iterations, so his scenes have less impact or sense of dread. And lastly, there is a clichéd story element in the climax of a character being in distress that dispels her agency and the Losers’ Club’s decision to attack Pennywise themselves. It robs what should be a great confrontation of a lot of its weight and adheres to more typical and well trodden (and frankly boring) plots.
But these are minor issues, and by and large the new IT is a success. It reminds viewers of being a kid, those carefree days of summer mixed with those awful nights of terror. The joy of being young and having the best friends in the world, and the fear that everything you know is a lie and that everything will be taken from you by someone (or something) else. Muschietti’s film is a triumph in that it creates a reality that, while fearsome and full of danger, viewers will still want to revisit time and again to feel that particular texture of a bygone era in their lives.
– ROB DEAN (@neuroticmonkey)
Tags: Andrés Muschietti, Andy Muschetti, Bill Skarsgård, Cary Fukunaga, Chase Palmer, Chosen Jacobs, clowns, Delilah Profitt, Finn Wolfhard, Gary Dauberman, Horror, It, Jack Dylan Grazer, Jackson Robert Scott, Nicholas Hamilton, Sophia Lillis, Stephen King, Wyatt Oleff