I’m not a very good Stephen King fan. For a while, I claimed that he was my favorite author even though I hadn’t read many of his more important works. Since then, I’ve stopped claiming this mostly for the fact that I barely read anymore (too many of these gosh darn motion pictures).The moment I commit to picking up a book, however, you can bet on it being a King novel.
No, I have not read It, but I’m well aware of it. No, I have not seen the 1990 mini-series, but I’ve seen parts of it.
I don’t view this as a negative. I don’t have to spend the whole time comparing this to other pieces. My review has the benefit of only addressing this particular film as an individual entity with nothing really clouding my vision.
For those unaware, the film takes place in the small town of Derry, Maine (this time, in the late 1980’s). Children have been mysteriously disappearing throughout town, but the self-proclaimed Loser’s Club is being haunted by a supernatural entity that they must team up to defeat.
There is a lot more to it than that, and a fair amount that is different from the King novel, but I’d rather not go into it too much. These are things that should be experienced.
I’ll start things off with a little hyperbole just to get you excited.
I think that It is probably the best mainstream horror film in years, at least since The Conjuring. I am incredibly critical of horror films, in particular those with wider releases that are often churned out for a quick dollar and are comprised of garbage. If you ask me about modern horror, I’ll tell you endlessly about indie films like It Follows and The Babadook, or even films from this year like Get Out or It Comes At Night.
It is absolutely one of the best mainstream horror films in quite some time.
The biggest thing to discuss is the cast of young actors playing the Loser’s Club. Few of them are known quantities at this point, but all of them make an impression. The biggest name at this point is probably Finn Wolfhard, who left quite the mark with the Netflix series Stranger Things last year. He steals every scene he possibly can as Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier, the source of most of the gang’s comedy and expletives. Leading the group is Bill, played by Jaeden Lieberher of St. Vincent and Midnight Special. Tasking a young actor with a stutter is not an easy task, considering it rarely plays well with more experienced actors, but he totally makes it work without making it a comedy point.
The rest of the Loser’s Club is terrific as well, but the new standout for me was Sophia Lillis as Beverly. It’s just science that girls mature quicker than boys, and her screen presence represents that of a much older and smarter character than her juvenile boy friends. The scenes her character shares with her abusive father are particularly poignant, and some of the most emotionally affecting scenes of the film.
One can only imagine how it must feel to take on the part that was made so iconic by Tim Curry in the mini-series, but Bill Skarsgard manages to not only step out from that shadow, but possibly redefine the role of Pennywise. The visage alone throughout the marketing campaign was unsettling at the least and disturbing at the strongest. He does the smart thing by not trying to ape Curry’s incarnation, but instead forging a wholly new path that will lodge itself into the memories of every audience member who leaves the theater unnerved.
I certainly don’t mean to say that the film is perfect, but we must take the misses with the hits. Clocking in at 2 hours 15 minutes, there’s definitely some fat that could be trimmed. Director Andy Muschetti takes a different strategy than other horror directors, and shows you the monster right away rather than hiding it. The idea of knowing what is coming definitely works once the hints start to appear, but there are a bit too many jump scare scenes before the final confrontation. The more times you walk through a haunted house, the less scary it can become. By removing a handful of these scenes (which don’t tend to add any new information as they keep coming), you can keep the pace up without wasting the frightening energy of Pennywise.
The character of Mike (played by Chosen Jacobs) gets two very powerful scenes early on and then disappears for what feels like half of the movie, before the rest of the Loser’s Club accidentally saves him from being bullied. After getting such a strong introduction, the film forgets about developing him further, and he just joins the other characters because they’re there. There’s another issue with Beverly initially being the strongest and bravest of the bunch before becoming a bit of a damsel in distress near the end, and I wish she didn’t need to be saved by the boys.
It is already destroying box-office records for horror films, R-rated films, and films released in September. Both the critical and audience response (we like to think that we’re a bit of both) have been mostly ecstatic, and I hope that continues. Good films need to be rewarded, and this film deserves your eyes and your praise.
SLIGHT SPOILER: It should be noted that ever since Cary Fukunaga was attached as director three years ago, the plan was to make It into two films. As the the title flashes across the screen at the end, it slowly becomes “It: Chapter One“. While the second film has not officially been greenlit, the script is scheduled to be finished January of 2018. Expect it to take place 27 years after this film so that the adult characters can come face to face with their old foe.