Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor-in-Chief and Film Writer
A new adaptation that easily surpasses the already scary 1990 ABC-TV miniseries of the same name, Andy Muschietti’s IT remake excels in most ways, thanks to flawless editing, a tense film score, a capable cast of teen actors and one terrifying, haunting demonic clown, courtesy of the versatile Bill Skarsgård.
Welcome to the town of Derry, Maine, where the murder rate is six times the national average (and higher still for kids.) School has just let out for the summer, and the local populace still reels from the latest missing kids, including Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher)’s kid brother Georgie, who vanishes after trying to get his paper boat out of the nearby storm drain.
The local bullies won’t hesitate to kill time (pardon the pun) by tormenting the small group they’ve come to know as the Losers’ Club, unaware that an even greater danger lurks around every corner: an evil demonic entity that feasts on fear and the flesh of its victims, in a repeating cycle every twenty-seven years.
Taking on the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), this being starts to corner each Loser by turning their own fears against them through illusions and mind games, all the better to relish devouring them later.
At least that’s the monster’s plan, until the gang decides to fight back, not just for their own sake for the that of all future victims or those already lost.
What to Skip:
There’s not much to mention in the minus column: It’s a given that the film is NOT meant for younger audiences, lest parents start worrying about therapy bills for weeks to come.
Diehard fans of Stephen King’s novel may have issues missing some of the book’s more obscure passages from this first of two planned installments (with the sequel tentatively set for 2019,) but even without the controversial teen sex scenes and the Ritual of Chud (look it up) having been removed from the storyline, there’s still plenty here to satisfy most viewers.
The other obvious downside? Having to wait a few years for the latter half of this tale, when the Losers Club is all grown up and back for another round against the killer clown.
What to Love:
This is a no-brainer: Many of us expected young Bill Skarsgård (TV’s Hemlock Grove, also the son of Thor actor Stellan Skarsgård and kid brother to True Blood star Alexander) to try to avoid emulating Tim Curry’s already infamous portrayal of the evil Pennywise, an iconic image that has stayed in our collective minds for the last 27 years.
Skarsgård finds his own version of the clown, avoiding too much dialogue and acting as a teasing predator who seems to enjoy playing with his — well, food — before going in for the kill. Unrecognizable under the FX makeup and assisted as needed by visual wizardry, the Swedish actor becomes as fluid and as chameleon-like as his character, turning into a horrifying presence in over half the scenes.
The young actors who compose the Losers’ Club share an obvious onscreen chemistry given the premise, which helps us feel for them as they suffer and endure at the hands of evil both human and otherwise.
An excellent script paired with a haunting score by Benjamin Wallfisch and dazzling cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung (seriously, the angles in the slide show scene are nightmare inducing) make for the scariest, pulse pounding horror film I’ve seen since The Exorcist.
Andy Muschietti, who’d previously directed Mama, feels right at home with the material, using his cast to the fullest extent to pay tribute to King’s popular novel.
With jump scares that are surgically edited for maximum effect, an R-rating that allows the story to be as gory and gruesome as a horror film demands and an extraordinary cast jumping feet first into a well-worn Stephen King tale, there’s simply no way to go wrong with this one.
When seeing IT, ask yourself this: Is the film’s premise horrific because the demon clown is in it, or is Pennywise in this small burg (flawed adults, bullies and all) because it was already an evil place? Think on that for a second.
It won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it’ll be guaranteed to keep some of us up at night. What a great film.