Synopsis – A group of bullied kids band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.
My Take – The original Stephen King novel was one of the few horror stories I somehow managed to finish. With an existing dislike for clowns, the novel played a huge part in installing a certain amount of fear for them. Till date, the novel still terrifies me. I always wondered how they could adapt this huge 1000+ page novel into a well-made, scary single film, mainly as Stephen King books in general have faced a lot of difficulty translating to film. Whether it is his attention to detail which gets completely lost on film, or his bizarre elements that become almost ludicrous when seen on the big screen. Unlike popular opinion, I loved the 1990 TV miniseries, admittedly, the second adult portion of the film wasn’t as good but as a whole the film resonates with me mostly for its very memorable Pennywise the Dancing Clown, played by a stellar Tim Curry. Hence, I was skeptical when director Andres Muschetti was handed the task of adapting Stephen King‘s best-known iconic storyline, considering Muschetti directed the 2013 film Mama, a by the numbers PG13 horror film, which despite immense potential failed to make a long-lasting impression. But being an R rated adaption director Muschetti here had the opportunity to create an iconic and scary Pennywise, to lead a film with unknown actors with whom the audience can identify, and create scenes of terror and suspense that would traumatize new generations, and despite the great risk, the director does his job quiet well. Yes! This film is quite extraordinary! The attention to detail, the subtle but effective comedic undertone and the exquisite cinematography not only do the original title proud, they make this re-imagining of the original classic even better than its predecessor.
The story follows Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), a teenager living in the fictional town of Derry in the late 80s, who is hit by a sudden wave of grief when his younger sibling Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) goes missing & is presumed dead. Living with the belief that Georgie is still alive, Bill despite his propensity to stutter depends on his friends to get through his daily activities as the leader of the group, popularly known as The Losers Club. Consisting of the Motormouth Richie (Finn Wolfhard), a bespectacled wise-ass, the hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), straight-laced son of the Rabbi Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), the home-schooled Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and are later joined by the chubby Brainiac new kid in town, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a tough-on-the-outside female who deals with the rumors that accompany being a teenager and the orphan Mike(Chosen Jacobs), who lives on the outskirts of the town & works for his grandfather in the animal slaughter house. The group of seven kids face day-to-day challenges of overprotective, ignorant or abusive parents while trying to stay away from being targeted by the local Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). However, when the kids start getting terrorized by a monstrous evil that usually takes the form of a clown named Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), the kids recognize a pattern & decide to find a way to overcome this shape-shifting entity that feeds on their deepest fears and feeds on children in the town every 27 years.While not 100% faithful, this adaption captures the essence of the book. Unlike the novel, the film is set in the 80’s, not 50’s, and follows only the parts of the story-line that deal with the group as children (rather than flashing forward and back). A few other parts of the novel are changed or left out which I won’t go into much detail about so as not to spoil anything. Right from the beginning, the film grips you and proves to be a promising horror film. The cast is all-around are excellent and have great chemistry together. The film zones in on the adolescents and creates feelings and emotions for the main characters, while also telling the story of their daily life conflicts. The conversations the characters have also provide comedic moments sprinkled throughout the film. Whenever the scene was not creepy or scary, the behavior of the kids was always fun to see. It had an aura of “coming to age” in this film with so many natural things that boys their age would do/face (you will get loads of laughs during the swimming part, or Ben’s crush on Beverly and many more), that should definitely grow on you. Easily the biggest praise of this film goes to the writing. This film has well developed characters and cohesive storytelling. The thing I enjoyed about these characters is that they not only deal with middle school problems and bullying, but they also deal with real life problems that everyone in this world has or will face. These characters, in their early teens, also cuss a lot. It made the characters that much more relatable and realistic and provided a breath of fresh air into the horror genre, and the writers actually understood the age demographic and portrayed it beautifully. The story is also really straightforward. There are no crazy, so-called “clever” plot twists that a lot of horror films nowadays try to include. It was cohesive and easy to follow. Also, I’m happy to tell you that this new the film doesn’t hold back, this is Pennywise unleashed, it’s practically proud of being R-rated, which is great because it allows for the scary parts to be really scary and not second-guessing or pandering. Like with comedy, horror is a highly subjective genre.
What one may find scary may cause others to roll their eyes in annoyance. Thankfully, this film provides enough scares that seem as realistic as possible and prevent the film from being silly. This retelling takes itself very seriously and doesn’t constantly rely on jump scares for legitimate horror, instead by building a creepy atmosphere of uncertainty and individual torment in each of the kids. Taking different forms to fit within the six boys’ and one girl’s worst fears while the chaser is always the same, and the clown never wears out its nightmarish welcome. Most important (for this genre) is a sort of lurking “cursed vibe” that films like King‘s The Shining and The Exorcist have: No matter what’s happening on screen, there’s an overall feeling of being watched and stalked, even before the inevitable pursuit. The film is not overly graphic (I expected more honestly) but stays true to some key scenes, particularly young Georgie’s famous encounter at the beginning. What I did find interesting is the stories focus not only as It as the villain but the adults almost like secondary villains. Aware of the evil present but preferring to turn the blind eye. This idea stood out quite prominently, and further highlighted the children’s struggles, which in turn makes the film even more satisfying come the credits.The use of lighting and creation of atmosphere is what makes this film so tense, which is why it’s perfectly suited for those who like Horror films but without the obnoxious gore. As I mentioned earlier the screenplay deviates slightly from the source, generally not to the films detriment. However, it feels somewhat light on scares and tends to focus more on King‘s other novel Stand By Me type of scenes. The film is a coming of age film but also a real loss of innocence film. The kids in the film face very disturbing adult themes. The bullying is downright traumatic, the sexual abuse and death surrounding these characters isn’t even the worst of it with a maniac clown stalking you to death. Leading to more than one climax and featuring side-villains, from white trash bullies to parents so terrible a killer clown may seem welcome. But everything connects as a whole, and flows together nicely as this small-town gang called The Losers is fleshed out both together and alone. Some of the side characters were a little underdeveloped, but they at least had a lot more character in this film than they did in the mini-series. Henry Bowers was a little more than just a generic bully and Mike was more than just the token black kid who shows up randomly near the end of Part 1. They could be developed a lot more, sure, but there’s at least some character there. Director Muschietti excellently balances the horror with the drama, while adding in some of the most grotesquely gorgeous visuals that have been brought to the big screen. From even the slightest parts of either maggots or blood, to the full blown disgustingly horrific visuals, it was a treat from the get-go. A couple of the set pieces are outstanding. Beverly’s bathroom (especially the sink), the creek for the rock fight, and the rickety old house and its corresponding clown lair all contribute to the overall level of menace. Composer Benjamin Wallfisch produces a score that guides us through the thrills and spills, as well as the quieter moments. Another good part was the setting (like the bikes, the houses, the costumes) that really gave the feel of 1980s. Including the popular boy band then, i.e. New Kids on the Block and the iconic Walkman. As a horror film, I think this one successfully gave us a scare, but apart from those scary moments, I think the best part was the ability of the director to direct a bunch of young actors and actress and create a great film.Of course, the film has a few flaws, for example, I wasn’t very fond of the narrative at beginning. The film shows the kids separated and being scared by Pennywise in a series of scenes that have no bridges between them, there’s not much plot until the path of the seven kids finally converge.The film’s biggest strength lies in the casting. Bill Skarsgard‘s performance as Pennywise is really terrifying. Even with a limited screen time, he offers an interpretation that will no doubt scare audiences for years, his voice, his contortions, that sinister look, and his magnificent performance will make the 27-year-old actor become the nightmares of new generations to come. He definitely feels like more of a threat than Tim Curry’s version, whom by today’s standards seems a little too goofy and wacky to be scary. In addition to Pennywise, all of the child actors are brilliant, especially, Finn Wolfhard who comfortably plays a role so different from the one he played in Stranger Things. Kudos to Jaeden Lieberher and Sophia Lillis, who had dramatic arches and did a wonderful job. It’s a pleasure to see this gang together and how the chemistry flows naturally.On the whole; ‘It’ is a well-crafted and a well-acted adaption of a story that beautifully blends humor and horror.
Directed –Andy Muschietti
Rated – R
Run Time – 135 minutes