Richard tells us why this latest Stephen King adaptation really does deserve all the praise its getting.
In the immortal words of Marlon Brando, “The horror.” Indeed Marlon, it is indeed something of a horror when writing criticisms of horror.
As I have mentioned in other reviews, the last thing I want to do is spoil the film for any potential viewers. That is, unless the film in question is horrible, at which point it would seem something of a public service to dissuade the uncertain viewer from spending their money and time on crap, you know, like Rings. Then you have the films which make a profound impression, requiring less of a recommendation so much as a fanfare of trumpets to announce their incoming awesomeness, films like It Follows or The Witch. But not every good horror film is a low-budget auteur masterpiece, and despite what some may tell you, not every big and showy shock-fest is a pile of garbage. Occasionally, there has to be room for a horror to just be a damn good movie.
2017’s It is that damn good film. It does just about all the right things in all the right places, delivering a solid story in an engaging way with lots and lots of crazy great scares. In narrative terms, this is the defining “Scary Clown” story. Based on the 1986 Stephen King novel and the 1990 miniseries of the same name, It follows the story of “The Losers Club,” a group of misfit kids from the town of Derry. Faced with several of the town’s children missing and their own nightmare-like experiences, they must band together Goonies-style to defeat Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Pennywise, however, is not the real monster of Derry so much as he is the manifestation of it. The various members of the Losers Club each deal with their own very real horrors which range from simple youthful insecurity to neglect to psychological and physical abuse. These extreme circumstances are implied to be both a cause and effect of Pennywise and his connection to the town. I would suggest a word of warning to anyone who would see this expecting a simple monster movie; the town of Derry has several monsters, and in my opinion, Pennywise is not the worst of the bunch.
With a premise like that there are a lot of places that It could have gone very wrong. The original book has a few moments so questionable in content that I’d say its best avoided by the squeamish and was also the length of the Bible. The miniseries, despite starring Tim Curry as Pennywise, was seriously restrained by a low-budget and concerns as to what was appropriate for television. This year’s It covers only the childhood portion of the story whilst laying the groundwork for the already-greenlit sequel which will undoubtedly show the Club’s inevitable return to Derry as adults. While not as extreme in parts as the book, and thankfully lacking its most inappropriate scene, the It of 2017 is a much less constrained beast than the It of 1990. While Curry’s performance is perhaps the best-remembered aspect of the original miniseries, and this may make me unpopular, I would say Bill Skarsgård makes for a helluva Pennywise. Though perhaps not as talkative as his predecessor, Skarsgård gives off a predatory air. His performance is less like a crazed killer and more akin to a pack of hungry wolves trapped in a clown costume. While part of this raw menace is the actor, much of what makes Pennywise such a nightmare vision is the special effects. While primarily CGI, the Pennywise visuals find a good balance between realism and cartoonish, which blend well with the film’s overall juxtaposition of supernatural monsters and real-world travesty.
While Pennywise may be the film’s driving force, it’s the Losers Club which pulls the whole thing together. The cast of young actors is simply astounding, right up there with Netflix’s Stranger Things, a comparison made even more apt by having the foul-mouthed chatter box Ritchie played by Finn Wolfhard. My personal favorite has to be Jack Grazer as the hypochondriac Eddie, but the Club’s lone female member Beverly, played by Sophia Lillis, steals the show. The very large and talented young cast may be my only serious complaint about the film as some characters don’t have enough time to develop. Stanley and Mike, played by Wyatt Oleff and Chosen Jacobs, respectively, feel a little underdeveloped compared to the rest of the Club. Doubly so for Mike who only really joins in at the 45-minute mark. Also, in desperate need of more screentime was the truly psychotic town bully Henry Bowers, played by Nicholas Hamilton, whose actions and implied backstory tie very neatly into my earlier statement about Derry having more than one monster.
The large cast has too many moments to shine in too short a time. The second act especially feels rushed, with frightening moments connected by sharp edits with little to no breathing room. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if both the first and third acts weren’t better-paced and I fear this was less a director’s decision and more a studio mandate on the running time. But who am I to complain about wanting more of a good thing? When It lets Pennywise out to play in all his mind-bending glory, the film really shines and if it’s a question of too much or too little, I’d say the filmmakers erred on the right side. This is horror filmmaking with the gloves off; big bad scares using every trick in the bag and adding a few new ones for good measure. It’s got money to play with and shows it off in large and spectacular ways. It’s the modern horror film in a nutshell: a remake, a reboot, and a jump-fest CGI spectacle. But it’s that modern horror movie made better. The CGI is artistic in quality, the cast is amazing, the lead monster is genuinely scary, and the screenplay is well-written. Some people don’t need to reinvent the wheel, they just decide to attach a better engine.