“IT”- Movie Review
Sometime in the late 90s, when I was about five or six years old, I was traumatized by Pennywise the Dancing Clown. I lived in a duplex in Kansas at the time, and I remember refusing to go downstairs into the living room when the miniseries was on. Whenever I mustered the courage to do so, my dad would have to pause the tape long enough for me to get what I needed and get out as fast as possible. So yeah, Tim Curry’s portrayal as Pennywise left an impact on me, just as it has left an impact on pop culture. And when it was announced that the character would be getting the silver screen treatment, people didn’t know what to think of it. Hell, I felt the same way. Would the new adaptation stay true to the essence of the character? Or would Hollywood turn an iconic horror figure into a pathetic imitation?
Unlike the 1990 miniseries, IT: Chapter One (yes, that’s technically the whole title) is pulled more directly from the source material. In 1989, a group of outcasts known as the Loser’s Club start to notice something very with their town of Derry, Maine. Children are disappearing at an alarming rate. Their worst fears are coming to life and stalking them like prey. And at the heart of all the madness is a clown known only as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), who seems determined to make their lives more of living hells than they already are. So the kids decide to band together and put an end to Its reign of terror once and for all.
I don’t usually get scared by horror movies, though I’ve always admired and been fascinated by the genre. For me, the recipe for a really good horror film includes as least four essential elements: (1) passion both in front of and behind the camera; (2) decent characters with some shred of competence; (3) tense atmosphere; and (4) a major creep factor that leaves me with an eerie taste in my mouth. And while I can’t say that Andy Muschietti’s take on IT is downright terrifying, it still manages to check every box on my list.
IT is wickedly cool and deliciously creepy, taking the strongest elements of its source material and having fun with it. The chemistry between the kids is outstanding. This young cast- Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Wyatt Oleff- work so well off each other. You really get the sense that these guys are friends and have each other’s backs no matter what. Even though some have more backstory to work with than others, all the actors bring such dimension and likability to their characters. If there’s anything this movie needed to do right, it was to show the strength of their bond. And the acting, combined with good writing, achieves just that.
Bill Skarsgard turns in a masterful, unrecognizable performance as Pennywise. The gorgeous makeup and costuming gives the character a great look, but its Bill’s physicality- the way he carries himself, the way he talks, his eyes, his facial expressions-that really gives Pennywise personality. The guy is super creepy. Whenever he appeared I was disturbed yet unable to look away. He manages to find a perfect balance between sinister and gleefully childish. I hope he has more on-screen time in the next movie because he is a treasure.
The film goes have a lot of jump scares, yes, though I’ll argue they at least aren’t lazy jump scares. Not once is there a scare that winds up being a bird flying by, someone loudly entering a room, or a cat jumping out of a cupboard. The tension builds to a satisfying payoff. Though as good as they are, I wish Muschietti had lingered on them more, let them play out a little longer that way their impact can sink into the audience’s skin.
The only other flaws I have with the movie have to do with aspects of the novel which could’ve translated better into the film. For one, the progression of the Henry Bowers character- played really well by Nicholas Hamilton, by the way- felt a little too rushed to me. His escalation in the book is much more developed, and where the character winds up in the movie had me questioning how it would impact the sequel. As I mentioned before, some members of the Losers’ Club get more focus than others. It’s easy to get a sense of what they’re lives are like, but certain characters, namely Stan Uris, deserved more backstory than what they were already given.
Overall, IT is a beautifully crafted horror film with a solid emotional core. It’s not the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, nor is it the best Stephen King adaptation out there. But it’s hugely entertaining. For a film that’s a little over two hours long, it flies by at the speed of light. I really love it, and if you give it a chance, I’m sure you’ll be leaving the theater with a delightfully creepy taste in your mouth.
Cosmic Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Stars