Release Date: 8 September 2017 (USA)
Director: Andy Muschietti
Screenplay: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga Gary Dauberman
Actors: Bill Skarsgård, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff
A group of bullied kids band together when a shapeshifting demon, taking the appearance of clown, begins hunting children.
After months of teasers and trailers, It finally dropped in theatres last week to major box office success. I’m assuming everyone reading this knows what It is about, but in case you don’t, the plot revolves around a group of kids who have to battle an evil presence that preys on the children in a small town in Maine. Compared to the novel and the 90s miniseries, the main story of It remains the same in this adaptation, though the director and writers did change the story from the 1950s to the 1980s. This means that a) we get some amazing 80s references, and b) the second part will take place in 2016 or 2017––which is interesting, because we’ll get to see the characters transported into our modern day. What will It look like with cell phones? Facetime? Internet that isn’t dial up?
I have a long relationship with It. I first watched the 90s miniseries when I was probably four or five, and my babysitter at the time gave me the choice of either going to bed or watching with her. I chose to watch the miniseries, and it straight up terrified me. For months I was terrified of sewer drains and clowns. I’m still not a huge fan of clowns, but they no longer terrify me to the extent they did when I was younger.
I’ve wondered, for a while, if It is the reason I’m such a horror fiend. I’ve wondered if there’s some small, unconscious part of me that’s waiting for another movie to scare me as much as It did when I was a child. The only movie that’s come close is The Ring from 2001, but even that didn’t quite match up to It. There’s something about the story and Pennywise that has been at the back of my mind for around twenty-three years. It is a huge part of my horror identity, which means there was a lot riding on this adaptation for me. I went into this movie with extremely high hopes. What I wanted the most was a closer adaptation to the novel than the miniseries––which wasn’t allowed to be as dark as the novel because it was on TV.
I wasn’t disappointed. This film is dark in moments. Georgie’s death is shown in quite a lot of detail––there’s nothing more horrifying than watching a six-year-old bleeding to death in the middle of the street before being dragged into the sewers. And, the film doesn’t shy away from Beverly’s abuse at the hands of her father, which is a huge part of her character. Apparently, there was a more violent assault scene cut on the editing room floor, which would have obviously added more complexity to this issue, but I don’t think the severity of the situation is lost to audiences without its inclusion.
The reason It is such a successful film (and novel) is because of the characters. The film does a fantastic job of getting you to care about each member of the Losers Club. You get the right amount of backstory for each child, and as you watch the relationship form between all of them, your relationship to the characters strengthens. If you don’t care about the kids, you’re not going to care about what they’re going through. The film (and novel) asks you to empathize and root for these poor kids who don’t quite know what’s happening in their hometown, especially when it comes to Bill’s sorrow over the loss of his brother.
Obviously, because this is only the first part of It, we don’t get much of a backstory of Pennywise. I like the fact that he’s just this evil, embodiment of fear that preys on Derry. The scariest thing about monsters with no backstory is that there’s no reason they’re present. You can’t reason away their presence. They’re just killing (and, in Pennywise’s case, eating) for no purpose. That’s terrifying, especially when you’re a kid. And, specifically, Pennywise preys on individual fear. Throughout the movie, he appears differently to some of the children, which makes him all the more frightening, because you really never know what he’s going to look like. You can’t plan for him. He just appears and fucks shit up. I found his depiction of Georgie whenever he went after Bill to be the most effective, and the most tragic, of all his “characters.”
Briefly, I’m going to touch on the acting. I just have to say, Bill Skarsgård does a fantastic job as Pennywise. He’s brutal, he’s creepy, and he apparently can actually make his eyes move independently, so it’s like he was born to play this role. He got the voice right, the laugh right, and the movement right. I know a lot of folks were skeptical, because Bill hasn’t done a whole lot prior to this film, but he nailed it. He made Pennywise his own character, which is awfully hard to do when you’re following an acting giant like Tim Curry.
The kids of the Losers Club were also fantastic. Each one played their character perfectly, and they worked well as a collective whole. There was never a moment when one of them felt out of place, or like they didn’t mesh with the rest of the group. Their energy with each other was organic. I particularly enjoyed Finn Wolfhard’s performance as Ritchie and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie. Their performances slayed; they made me laugh so goddamn hard throughout the entire film.
Let’s move on to aesthetics, because this is an important category for me when it comes to films. It is a pretty, pretty film. It’s filmed so beautifully, which makes sense, because Chung-hoon Chung was the director of photography. If you’ve seen Oldboy, The Handmaiden, Stoker, or Thirst, you know that Chung is a fantastic cinematographer. His movies are beautiful––the color, the way shots are aligned, it’s all utterly extraordinary. If you’re a fan of well shot movies, especially well shot horror movies, you’ll appreciate the time and consideration taken to achieve the visual components of this film. The 80s elements of It are great, as well. This movie utilizes nostalgia well, and captures the look and feel of the 80s well without seeming over the top or corny.
One issue I had with the film was the CGI, at times. It bordered the line between well done and over stylized a bit too much at times. I do think that the CGI reflects children’s terror (by which I mean––experiencing horror as a child is to experience horror in all of its extremes; the horror is larger, louder, etc), but as an adult, it seemed a bit clunky at times. I also wish that Pennywise moved a bit differently each time he rushed towards a child. When you see Pennywise running towards Bill in the trailer, you’ve seen Pennywise running towards each member of the Losers Club throughout the duration of the two-hour movie. The shots are chaotic, rapidly moving, and all kind of look the same. I wish there had been a bit more variety there, especially because we know that Bill we Skarsgård worked pretty hard with body contortionists while making the film. I wish more of that movement was brought into his character.
That said, I would highly recommend seeing this movie in theatres, because the (polished) CGI and Pennywise look awesome on the big screen. I went to a local Alamo, which is always a fun time. Some of the ushers were dressed as clowns––a both creepy and amazing detail, and they even had a later showing that was “clowns only,” which I found hilarious. I didn’t go, because no thank you, but I appreciate the sentiment from afar. My fellow audience members were great, as well. I was next to a young woman who would mutter “oh god, don’t do that. No. No, don’t do that. Don’t go in the room” whenever tension rose, and I found it hilarious. It didn’t bother me at all, and it was nice to hear someone be so terrified while watching, because I, personally, didn’t find it very scary. (This is not a point against the film––finding shit scary is so subjective, and I enjoyed everything else about this movie, and could still appreciate the creepy, disturbing imagery that was in the film without being scared).
To conclude, I would (obviously) highly recommend this movie. It has a lot of heart, it’s hilarious, the acting is fantastic, and it captures childhood horror well. You may not find it visually terrifying if you’ve seen a lot of horror movies, but I don’t think that takes away from enjoying the movie. It’s so nostalgic, and makes you think about your own childhood terrors, especially if you have a long history with the story. If you’re interested in the movie at all, please go see it in theatres. It’s such a great experience.
I’m excited (though nervous, I’m not going to lie) to see the casting for Pt. 2. Apparently, it’s going to be pretty dark. Perhaps, then, it will be more visually terrifying? We shall see. It’ll be a challenge to find a set of actors to represent the Losers Club after the amazing group of kids in Pt. 1,
I did just write a piece responding to those saying It isn’t a horror movie. If you’re interested, see “Defending Horror.”
I know this was a long post, but I had a lot of feelings about the movie. Clearly. It’s times like these I wish I had a podcast.
Have you seen It? What did you think? Let me know!
Until next time, stay scary.