IT (Dir- Andy Muschietti, USA, 2017)
Starring- Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton
It’s ironic in the fact that the central terrifying killer clown of Pennywise comes round every 27 years to terrorise and feed on the souls of the children of Derry, Maine where IT is set, is somehow mirrored by how the last adaptation of Stephen King’s novel was also 27 years ago, in the form of a TV mini series. Whilst the TV adaptation suffered from obvious censorship regulations of the television network, some slightly hammy acting from the adult characters of the cast, it sill had a brilliant central performance from Tim Curry as Pennywise, the shape shifting entity who takes the form of the jovial circus clown to prey on children. The new version, which is also known as IT: CHAPTER ONE, has already gone through a couple of other directors, including TRUE DETECTIVE season one director Cary Fukunaga, and has now landed at the feet of MAMA director Andy Muschietti. So how does he fare in transferring King’s epic, if somewhat bloated (the original novel is over 1000 pages) tome to a new audience.
The film opens with a brilliant sequence where young Georgie Denbrough goes outside in the pouring rain to test out the boat his older brother, Bill (Lieberher), has constructed for him. The boat floats down a drain where Georgie encounters a clown, Pennywise (Skarsgard). Rather than be scared by the sinister figure is instead conversing with it in child like innocent wonder, only to be then viciously attacked and then dragged into the storm drain by the circus performer gone wrong. We then cut to the following summer of 1989 and Bill and his friends, who belong in the losers club which they nickname, are ready for the upcoming season, to try and avoid the towns sociopathic bully (Hamilton) and at the same time try and search for Bill’s younger brother who he still believes is alive. It’s only when they realise that all of them have been having the same unusual visions and terrifying attacks involving Pennywise that they soon start to figure out that the demonic clown has been in the town of Derry for a long time and could be behind the spate of missing children that seem to plague the area every 27 years.
Admittedly the first thing that will pop into your head from watching IT is the relocation of the period of this first part of the story, moving from King 50’s setting in the book and in the mini series, to 80’s with references to New Kids On The Block, LETHAL WEAPON 2 and BATMAN and other nostalgia that puts into mind the recent success of the Duffer Brother brilliant Netflix series STRANGER THINGS. A fact made more relevant as one of the members of the loser club is played by Finn Wolfhard, a star from that same series. Overall its this young cast that handle the roles superbly and bring about engaging characters for the audience to root for, as they experience the first signs of growing up and in a town where as well as the sadistic entity of Pennywise they also have to deal with the uselessness and often abusive tell tale signs of their grown up parents.
Particular example is Beverley (Marsh) the only female member of the group who has had dubious gossip spread about her around town, but in reality is clearly suffering from abuse by her leering father. Even the school bully is also prone to having a relationship forged on subjigation handed to him by his abusive father, who is the town sheriff, exemplified in one particular scene where he humiliates him in front of his fellow bullies. IT portrays a world in which the children are flawed but not by their own actions but rather from the parents, in some cases in the worst way possible and it’s only with them being together that they somehow show maturity and strength that the grown ups, who remain largely in brief supporting roles, will never have. The star of the show is Skarsgard in the role as Pennywise with a performance that is his own creating a terrifying entity that preys on the characters fears and is malevolent in his menace of them and in utilising and exploiting their flaws.
Whilst the performances are strong the film does seem to let itself down a bit in the number of choreographed jump scares that happen throughout. Its telling that the first few jump scares are well done but then you soon start to notice the pattern emerging of when you know the required shock you out of your seat moment comes. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with the use of classic horror jump moments, which is pretty standard in the current mainstream genre frame of mind, this does tend to become a tiresome after a while and in the long run will lessen the longevity of the film in years to come.
The film does have a few moments that expertly generate a sense of shock and unease that doesn’t need the residual boo-scare moment. Such as hypochondriac Eddie’s (Grazer) encounter with a leper made all the more creepier and disturbing as its set in broad daylight. Also the gangs initial viewing of a group of slides on a projector that goes out of control, when a family photo of Bill’s slowly unravels to reveal Pennywise’s gleaming evil smile instead of his mothers face is an expertly handled moment of that works surprisingly well.
Overall Muschetti is confident enough director and handles the proceedings of the film with expert skill managing to balance moments of terror with moments of levity with his portrayal of the group of kids bringing out some great performances from his young cast and also especially from Skarsgard. Whilst it does go over long on the running time (stretching at 135 mins) IT somehow regains enough pace to keep things on a roll throughout and admittedly despite the few flaws, the film still has enough quality in its setting and characters to remain an engaging genre work. One that seems to be a merge of 80’s nostalgia which is certainly popular at the moment and with the films of that period such as GOONIES, STAND BY ME (another King adaptation) along with the recent retro fest STRANGER THINGS which might go to explaining how well its done at the box office.