I had really high expectations heading into the new adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, It. I have enjoyed all the material leading up to the release of the film, I was a fan of the 80’s mini series (especially the iconic turn of Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown) and the images of the new version of the clown were impressive. I probably have not been as excited to see a film since Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Unfortunately, many times expectations are not met, when they are this high.
After seeing the film, I can say that It exceeded my expectations dramatically. This movie knocked it so far out of the park that it is in consideration for my favorite movie of 2017.
The little town of Derry, Maine is a horrible place. Kids are disappearing at an alarming rate while the adults turn a blind eye. A group of kids who call themselves the Loser’s Club come together to confront an ancient evil responsible for those disappearances.
This movie was not just a horror film. It was a tremendous coming of age story (much like Stephen King’s film based on a short story, Stand By Me) and it was also a thriller. It did not just scare you (and, boy howdy, did it scare you) but it also created some much tension and suspense that you could practically feel it creeping under your skin and pounding your heart.
The film needed to have a successful Pennywise, because Tim Curry is such an icon, if it was not a great new version, the film would fail. Thankfully, Bill Skarsgård is up to the task. His portrayal as Pennywise was amazing. Not only was he tremendously frightening, he was compelling as could be. This was not just your typical horror movie villain. He had layers. He tormented you. He was brutally vicious. Skarsgård, who some criticized early because of the look of the clown, is masterful at taking the classic character and making it his own.
But, on the other side of the ledger was the Loser’s Club. This group of kids could have been a troupe of one-note, disposable characters, but they were anything but. In fact, the reason this film succeeded as hugely as it did was because of the skills of these young actors and the chemistry between them all. They spoke like real kids. They had major problems in their lives. Each one had a home life that was simply painful, and yet they were able to find one another and give the strength to their friendship.
These young actors were led by Jaeden Lieberher (St. Vincent, Book of Henry, Midnight Special) as Bill, whose brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) disappears at the beginning of the movie. Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) is the smart-mouthed Richie. Wolfhard is one of the standouts among the kids and is consistently the funniest of them as well. Sophia Lillis plays the bullied and harassed Beverly, who befriends this group of boys despite her reputation. Jack Dylan Grazer is Eddie, the boy whose mother is so overprotective that she drove him to be constantly worried about his health. Grazer is another extremely entertaining young actor here. Chosen Jacobs plays Mike, the boy whose parents died in a fire, and who is struggling to find his own way in life. Wyatt Oleff (young Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy) is Stanley, the son of the local rabbi who finds his Jewish faith to be a challenge. And Jeremy Ray Taylor who plays Ben, the new kid in town who has been investigating the strangeness of Derry.
Hell, even when you see the group of bullies who were tormenting the Loser’s Club, you think that they were nothing more than the bully stereotype, and then you see the leader of the group, Henry (Nicholas Hamilton), being humiliated and emasculated by his policeman father. He went from being an out of control figure you hate, to a villain that you can almost connect with.
I wanted to make sure that all of these kids got their due in this review because they were so magnificent here that they truly were the reason this is elevated above the typical horror films. The script wisely takes its time and lets us get to know these kids and develop deep and rich characters who everybody can relate with.
Many of the typical horror ideas and concepts are flipped on its side here as well. The story is so well told and so beautifully executed that you must give credit to the director Andy Muschietti. The look and the feel of the film was stronger than you expect for a horror movie.
The film is rated R and it certainly earns that R rating. It has some extremely violent scenes and It does some things to the young cast that you just would not think that the film would do. The rating also allowed these kids to talk like real kids talk. When they are away from adults and with their friends, kids can have the foulest mouths of all. This film showed this aspect of the kids perfectly.
I was emotionally tied to most of the young characters as they were being tormented by what they feared the most. I was astonished at how downright awful the adults in these kids’ lives were. I have not read the book, but I have heard that the awfulness of the adults of Derry was a theme. If that is the case, then this film nailed it, because every adult that gets any lines at all are at best creepy and at worst unbelievably violent and cruel. I am not sure how many times I actually shivered from the underlying “ick” factor many of the adults had here.
The film is 135 minutes, but I never found myself bored. Just the opposite, I was riveted the entire time and it felt as if the time just flew by. On the other had, I have been in 90 minute films this year that seem to take an eternity.
This is easily the best horror movie of the year so far, but it transcends horror. After several weeks of ho-hum films at the theater, It is poised to have a monster weekend at the box office and very few films this year deserve it more than It. This movie is completely engaging, an entertaining thrill ride from start (poor Georgie) to finish. Whereas the It mini series from the 1980s had a brilliant performance by Tim Curry and was pretty campy otherwise, this version of It feels like the vintage version the material deserves. I was worried that the film would not be able to live up to the high expectations that I had for It, but I found that It actually shattered them.
Of course, if you have a fear of clowns, you may want to question whether you want to see It. It certainly won’t change that fear for the better.