(Head Geek’s note: This review is courtesy of friend of the Geekery, ProjectBlue.)
Stephen King’s IT has never been far from the pop culture conscious since its 1986 novel release. The book itself became controversial for a scene skipped over in both film versions. The 1990 ABC miniseries, while lacking, endures because of Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise the Clown, the murderous demon stalking fictional Derry, Maine.
This version of IT had quite a few things going for it. First, director Andy Muschietti and company did great work splitting and condensing an 1,100-plus page book down to a core story of a group of outcast kids facing a world that doesn’t like them and a town plagued by an ancient evil.
Second, again a credit to Muschietti and company, IT nailed casting. Movies focused on kids can go sideways amazingly fast, but they did a great job of putting together the glue that holds the story together – King’s group of outcasts who band together to protect each other from growing up (and that omnipresent evil clown).
At its heart, IT is about the kids, known as The Losers. Each one has their own reasons for being outcasts. Richie can’t shut up, Eddie was helicopter parented before it was a thing, Ben was fat AND an outsider moving to Derry in a time kids didn’t move from Kindergarten through high school, Mike was black in a time that was still an issue, Beverly was Mean Girl’d at school and obsessed over at home by her father, Bill stuttered and his parents became very distant when Bill’s brother Georgie goes missing.
The biggest name actor of the kids is probably Finn Wolfhard (Mike on STRANGER THINGS), playing motormouth smart-ass Richie Tozier. The biggest future star of the group is arguably Sophia Lillis, whose Beverly Marsh ends up doing a lot of the heavy lifting, acting as the object of affection to at least two of The Losers and a bridge to the creepier goings on with the adults in the movie.
Third, this movie seems to have hit at the perfect time. August box office bottomed out pretty severely, a trend started by a much, much worse King adaptation – Sony’s abysmal The Dark Tower. With pent-up demand to go to the movies and September beginning the time of year people look to film for a good scare, IT is well on its way to $100 million at the box office in its first weekend in release.
Finally, Pennywise becomes a huge strength in the movie, as Bill Skarsgård creates a take on an already amazing character and makes it his own. That was a big issue for me going into the film. Tim Curry’s version in the 1990 miniseries was amazing to me growing up, so I went in very skeptical. Even 20 minutes into the film, I wasn’t sure if I liked this version or not. But by IT’s final shot, Skarsgård had won me over with his collection of bizarre tics and mannerisms personifying an evil demon who happens to dress like a clown. Skarsgård himself has compared his task to Heath Ledger and the Joker, taking over a beloved part from an iconic actor and making it his own. While I don’t know if I would go that far in agreement, this Pennywise is at the least equal, but totally different than, Curry’s take on the character.
Verging more into slight spoilers:
The movie kicks into gear with Bill and Georgie. Georgie wants to go out in the rain to play but brother Bill is sick so he makes Georgie a paper boat to ride the rain streams on the street. Georgie, about to lose the boat down a sewer, meets Pennywise the Clown. The meeting does not go well for little Georgie and he’s officially “missing,” but most assume he’s dead.
We come to find out people tend to go missing in Derry – six times the national average for adults, much higher than that for kids. Bill, heartbroken over Georgie, gathers The Losers to search the sewers. This quickly puts them on the radar of Pennywise, who begins preying on their biggest fears and puts both The Losers and Pennywise on a path towards each other that will only lead to death.
Overall, the movie did a great job with a tough story to crack on film. The kids nail their parts as they get to be kids – rude, crude, obnoxious, think more original Bad News Bears than that unfortunate remake. The horror itself is actually pretty tame. Don’t go in expecting a bunch of jump cuts or gore, which works for me.
Caveat time: I’m a pretty big Stephen King fan, my most used net name references the plague from The Stand. King movies in general can be hit or miss. Coming off whatever Sony did to The Dark Tower, I was cautious, even when IT’s trailer looked good, I still held my breath. But leaving the theater, I was happy (possibly a rarity!). That said, I can see this movie not hitting as well for people who are not fans of the source material or just not having read the novel, especially if you’re expecting a super scary, gory, jump scare horror flick.
That said, I thought it was fantastic. The sequel is greenlit and the box office results make me think it’ll be fast tracked. I’m curious (and, frankly, a little worried) if the sequel can match this film, as it will age up this group of lovable Losers and show their adult selves dealing with the fallout from this movie. But Muschietti now has my trust. And at least it’s not Sony!
Film Rating: 8/10