Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Writer
After a record-breaking theatrical release that not only reignited fear of shapeshifting demons in the minds and hearts of millions of horror fans, not to mention legions of Stephen King readers, director 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 clown, courtesy of the versatile Bill Skarsgård.
Now in glorious high-definition Blu-Ray, prepare to lose some sleep over some of the most gripping and claustrophobic fearsome moments carved right from your own childhood.
Set in the seemingly idyllic town of Derry, Maine in the mid-1980s, 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 is still reeling from the latest dissapearances 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 calling itself Pennywise, that feasts on fear and the flesh of its victims in a repeating cycle every twenty-seven years.
Taking on the form of a Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), the morpheous 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.
It’s an obvious given that the film is NOT meant for younger audiences, lest parents start worrying about therapy bills and long conversations about the safety of dark basements.
Diehard fans of Stephen King’s novel will likely find issue with some of the missing, 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) there’s still plenty of cleverly renvented sequences here to satisfy most viewers.
The biggest plus of this excellent remake is that young Bill Skarsgård (TV’s Hemlock Grove, also the son of Thor actor Stellan Skarsgård and kid brother to True Blood star Alexander) avoids 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.
Instead, Skarsgård finds his own version of the clownish demon 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, switching back and forth ffrom a smiling buffoon right down to a horrifying, in-your-face presence in over half the scenes. Creepy yet effective every time.
The young actors who compose the Losers’ Club share an obvious onscreen chemistry despite the graphic premise, which helps us feel for them as they suffer and endure at the hands of evil both human and not.
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 greatest effect, an R-rating that allows the plot to be as gory and gruesome as a horror film demands and an extraordinary cast jumping feet first into a well-worn 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.
While sampling the Blu-Ray extras, catch a fourteen minute interview with the King of Horror himself, as he explains how his home of Bangor, Maine became the inspiration for his best-seller several decades ago. The deleted scenes will also leave you a bit uneasy, save for one hilarious gag reel moment.
For certain, 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.