Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise
Jaeden Lieberher as Bill Denbrough
Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hanscom
Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh
Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozier
Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak
Chosen Jacobs as Mike Hanlon
Wyatt Oleff as Stan Uris
Nicholas Hamilton as Henry Bowers
Writer (based on the novel by)
The 2017 incarnation of Stephen King’s It is a film that works both because of and despite the very things that have made it a record shattering smash hit for New Line Cinema. On the one hand, the most advertised scares quickly settle into a predictable rut, it isn’t particularly scary the first time Pennywise charges at the camera, even less so the 17th time. On the other hand, most of these scenes seem to exist only to satisfy studio and audience expectations, director Andy Muschietti is much more interested in what happens around the jump scares, and it is because of this that It is one of my favorite movies of this year, despite the fact that at the end of the day, it really isn’t all that scary.
I’ll come clean and admit I am a sucker for coming of age movies, and boy, does It scratch that itch. The opening scene between Jaeden Lieberher’s (Midnight Express) Bill and his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Schoot) nails the camaraderie and devotion between brothers and really sets the expectation that is movie will be 100% from the perspective of its child leads. This opening really needed to set the tone for the rest of the film, and credit to Muschiette for making it both chilling and heartbreaking (seriously, they will be teaching about this opening sequence in film schools across the country)
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that without the impeccable casting all of the directorial maneuvering in the world wouldn’t have saved this It adaptation, while the boys are all fantastic (especially Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard as Richie) the standout find here is Sophia Lillis as Bev. Lillis plays Bev with such confidence that you would never guess her newcomer status. In her first real film role Lillis nails the grit, optimism, strength and burgeoning sexuality of Beverly Marsh. At the end of the day It is really about the friendship and camaraderie of The Losers and they really couldn’t have put together a better group of kids.
Before we get into the plot I want to discuss something that has been bothering me. Even though the Losers Club is the heart, soul (and entire point) of this current movie, we know that this is only the first half of the book and knowing that none of these kids will be in the sequel is, frankly depressing. I have no desire to watch a sequel where the Losers are all growed up and their lives look, well frankly, just like mine. It’s a rare case of really liking a movie and not really caring about the sequel. I honestly would be more than happy if they changed that aspect of the book and just made it about them in high-school. I feel like they are really going to lose a lot of the good will once the story is about grownups. I’m willing to be proven wrong here but let me know what you think in the comments.
I gotta admit, I have never seen the old It or read the book. I didn’t know anything about Pennywise other than his true demon nature. So everything here was a surprise to me. I thought it was very well done, creative and pretty scary in as much as jump scares involving clowns are scary.
In case you haven’t floated on the hype yet, we meet a bunch of fifteen year olds – who refer to themselves as The Losers — a year after one of their younger brothers (Georgie, I’ll never forget because they say his name in the movie about sixty times just to keep you on track,) was attacked and abducted by a manipulative clown who lives in the sewers named Pennywise. Pennywise feeds off your fears the same way – almost in a copyright infringement sort of way – that Freddy Krueger did on Elm Street before him.
Before we get started, I want to clear the air for all the Stranger Things fans out there. This movie did not copy ST; though they share the same actor, genre, period and theme. In fact, Wolfhard was on the set of It as a relative unknown when ST came out and blew up while he was filming. Not to mention the fact that the book came out about 30 years before Stranger Things was even, well a thing.
Anyway, I love scary movies. But more than that, I love unique and tense scary movies. The first time we see It is a perfect blend of both of those things. After that, I agree with Grits that the scares never amounted to much more than what we’re used to seeing in other modern horror franchises. The cool part is that the human characters become even scarier and evil than It. Bev’s disgusting father, Eddie’s smothering mother, Henry’s cruel dad, Bill’s angry father and eventually Henry himself loom large over The Losers. And we get to see all of them overcome these fears before the final confrontation.
What I find even more entertaining about this property is going online afterwards and learning about the lore of Stephen King’s macroverse and how It plays a part there and within The Dark Tower franchise. I won’t nerd-out too hard but apparently It is a god-like creature from outside of the Universe and compares himself to other gods. We got a glimpse of this in the film when It opens his mouth for Bev and she sees three lights – the deadlights – which is another level of manifestation that’s truer to what It is. Cooooool!
Anyway, I’m going to recommend this one, not because It deserves it as a horror film but for the great way it stayed focused on the young characters and their real-world fears.
The bond that forms between these kids as they face both the familiar horrors of adolescence and the supernatural horrors of It develops in such an organic way that by then end you feel like you witnessed the birth of actual lifelong friendships. You are scared for the Losers because you care about them, both individually and as a group. While that may seem like the most basic thing a horror movie needs to nail, watching It reveals how little we normally care about the protagonists in these kinds of films.
Now I could go on and on about how great the kids are (guys, seriously, they are so good.) I have to share some love with my man Bill Skarsgård. I’ve been a fan of Bill’s since the underappreciate insanity of Netflix’s Hemlock Grove. However, nothing in his filmography prepared me for his take on Pennywise the Dancing Clown. This was not the over the top campy menace of Tim Curry’s Pennywise, nor was it a one note clown monster. What Skarsgård does with minimal dialogue is frankly, stunning. Pennywise is both seducing, horrifying, and more importantly, creepy in a way that gets under your skin and stays there.
It may not be a perfect movie, and I may not be that jonesed about a sequel about 40 year olds, but damnit if I don’t love the hell out of this movie. A great cast and fast pace insures this will be one that gets many repeat viewings. 4 out of 5 Red Balloons.