*There are mild spoilers involved in this review, but nothing that would drastically take away from the joy/horror of this new film. Enter at your own risk and enjoy!*
Written by Chase Palmer, Cary Joji Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman and directed by Andy Muschietti “IT” is the second live-action adaption of the infamous novel written by Stephen King. Things are not well in the town of Derry, Maine. Things are not well at all. Luckily, their misfortune is our bounty as this adaption for the new millennium has been crafted with great care for the source material. For the uninitiated, “IT” is about seven misfit children in the town of Derry that all separately experience the fear of being hunted by a demonic presence that takes the form of a clown and calls itself ‘Pennywise, the Dancing Clown’. Eventually they all stumble into each others’ path and come to realize that they have all been encountering the same terrifying thing. Using the power of… the library (If that doesn’t make you feel old, nothing will), they come to know that It resurfaces every 27 years (or so) to feast on the children of the town by tricking them into getting all too close before opening it’s otherworldly maw.
King’s titanic novel, nearly 1,200 pages, goes into great detail about the haunting of Derry and the workings of the malevolent shape-shifter Pennywise. However, it also dives deep into the everyday lives and histories of all of the seven main characters, especially what each one is afraid of, and why. In this way Pennywise embodies a horrific sort of pairing between the Joker and Batman as he cleverly uses each character’s main fear to his advantage. There are some major differences between the book and the film, but the spirit of the novel is fully embraced here, trusting mood and the feel of a scene or an image over the exact logic of it all. Which, I believe, is one of the larger aspects as to why the film is as effective as it is. The remainder of the weight of the story rests on the shoulders of the actors, and they carried it with great skill.
First we might as well cover the main entity itself, Bill Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise. After the memorable role of Tim Curry’s Pennywise from the 1990’s mini-series, Skarsgard had to make this version a clown of his own accord. By the way, if you remember that series with fondness, it’s a memory shaded by rose colored glasses. Curry was most definitely the only really good part about the whole thing, give it a watch for nostalgia or comical reasons-and remember that time can be cruel. Back to the modern era though-Skarsgard is a horrifying joy as the killer clown. He’s a more brutal foe than Curry’s, but distinctly different in his approach. Skarsgard’s Pennywise lures children in with smells and sounds, at least with the iconic Georgie sequence. Here he drops the more mainstream monster foes of the book and miniseries (The Wolfman, creature from the black lagoon etc.) and directly taps into their psychological fears. He mimics a dying animal on a meat hook for farmhand Mike Hanlon, turns into an infectious leper for Eddie Kaspbrak who’s mother has induced a fear of the biological in him, and for Bill Denbrough the monster takes the form of Georgie- Bill’s dead little brother and previous victim of Pennywise. Skarsgard excels in taking the character and making him into his own brilliant version of everyone’s nightmares. The real jewel of this film however is the Losers Club.
While all seven of the kids do a remarkable effort in bringing the characters to life, you can only do so much in a roughly two hour film with that many perspectives. The standouts in this film are Finn Wolfhard as Richie ‘trashmouth’ Tozier, Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh, Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hanscom, and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak. Again, not to dismiss the rest of the Losers Club as they all did an impeccable job for such young actors, these four simply won me over more so than the rest. Finn Wolfhard, in particular, was a real treat as he completely owned the motormouth tendencies of Richie- and he was far funnier than expected. Sophia Lillis did a standout job as the bravest of the losers, pairing real compassion with courage, I would not be surprised to see her star in increasingly demanding roles in the future as she can act while maintaining truth in her performance. Jeremy Ray Taylor put forth a solid effort as the heart of the group and really landed those ‘New Kids on the Block’ jokes. Jack Dylan Grazer was also a real scene-stealer with his risk averse nature playing well as comedic relief.
Now that the film has hit wide-release and smashed previous horror box office opening records we can rest assured that we will indeed receive the second chapter when the Losers return to Derry as Adults to once again confront the evil that is Pennywise. Personally I can’t wait for the sequel and will revel in the assured weekly casting rumors for the months to come. This was a fine adaption of a Stephen King classic and a huge financial success, hopefully we’ll get more genre films like this in the future.
Final Score: Seven kids, one clown, and a mythical turtle