It (2017, 2 hrs 15 mins)
We all know by now that Stephen King is one of the most prolific horror writers of the 21st century. Along with his incredible library of terrors comes film adaptions. Some are classics like Christine, The Dead Zone, Carrie and The Shining, and some were not so great like Sleepwalkers (although a cat does save the day), Dreamcatcher, and Secret Window. Being a fan since my teens, I’ve read a lot of his books and watched the good and bad films. One of my favourites has to be It. This chilling book told the tale of a clown that terrorized a small town in Maine and its children every 27 years. When the TV mini-series adaptation was aired in 1990, I was there with bells on and loved it. Fast forward to this summer where Andy Muschietti, director of Mama, took the helm to create a modern take on the demonic clown. I was a little skeptical since I had mixed feelings about Mama, but this director has an aesthetic that I like, so I was willing to give it a go. I’m pleased to say that he has done a more than successful job in modernizing the mini-series into a fast-paced horror movie, destined to create new fans and please the old ones of Stephen King’s work.
The town of Derry is seemingly peaceful and a great place to raise a family, but there is a darkness that dwells there. Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), Bill Denbrough’s (Jaden Lieberher) brother has gone missing after being lured into a sewer by a menacing clown. Given up for dead, the town puts a curfew in place to save other children from going missing as they try to figure out what happened, but 7 young misfits know better. They have all been tormented by the clown in their waking life, being lured and taunted by him; becoming his inevitable prey as he feeds off their fears. When they realized they’ve all encountered this clown known as Pennywise, they band together to defeat this evil entity.
King has a way of conveying an incredible sense of nostalgia with his books, and luckily films like Stand by Me and The Green Mile were in the hands of competent directors who created visual testaments to King’s skill. The 1990 version of It directed by Tommy Lee Wallace works well too, tapping into the schoolyard fears of being bullied and not having the idyllic childhood that so many strive for. I also enjoyed the introduction of characters as adults and their encounters with the dreaded Pennywise in flashbacks. In the 2017 version, we get only the childhood battle with the demon clown, but here instead of a timeline from the late 1950s to the mid 1980s-early 90s, the kids are based in the 80s.
Everything 80s is new again, from the hit Netflix series Stranger Things to popular bands touring for their now adult fans. The writing team of Cary Fukunaga (director of HBO’s True Detective), Gary Dauberman (writer of both Annabelle films), and Chase Palmer were extremely smart about the setting of the remake. Instead of regurgitating the same timelines from the original and making a static revamp mired in a world that is further removed from our generation, they made the timeline dynamic because it holds so much meaning to many of us that grew up in that era, tapping into a visceral feeling of that same nostalgia King is so brilliant at. It translates really well, especially with the music choices, and we all relate to the kids in the film because it felt like we were all there. They also took great pains to encapsulate the episodic TV representation, streamlining action and changing some moments to make things fresh while still capturing the same feel of childhood uncertainty that comes with being a preteen.
Pennywise has become iconic because of Tim Curry’s terrifying portrayal. Everyone remembers the scary clown’s grimacing mouth filled to the brim with razor-sharp teeth. Those are large clown shoes to fill, but Bill Skarsgard did a fantastic job channeling the essence of the evil Pennywise and at the same time making it his own. His handsome young face is unrecognizable under the clown makeup and prosthetics; his voice is eerily childlike, cartoonish and menacing all at once. The ensemble cast that makes up this modern “Loser’s Club” was engaging, sharp and had the best chemistry. Finn Wolfhard embodied the cut-up Richie with a wit that made me forget he’s the kid from Stranger Things. Lieberher and Chosen Jacobs both worked well as Bill and Mike respectively; embracing the sensitivity of the two characters, and Jeremy Ray Taylor will break your heart as the awkward and love-struck Ben. Last but not least, Sophia Lillis was tomboyish and feminine with a wonderful strength that updated the original interpretation of Beverly.
My only criticism is that Beverly ends up being the damsel in distress that the boys must save after we see her come through as a fighter and survivor of abuse, as well as the unifying, peace-keeping member of the group. It’s contradictory, but in the book, it’s worse when she offers herself up to the boys in a weird sexual bonding scene to unite the group. Other than her needing to be rescued, the new Beverly stands up for herself making this portrayal the lesser of two evils.
If you’re looking for a relevant walk down memory lane, It is a must-see. With the film’s current box office take of 123 million dollars, and a sequel focusing on the kids as adults back to battle Pennywise in the works, horror has clearly made its place in the theatres. I keep saying (and will continue to say) movie-goers are hungry for content, and even though this is a remake of a classic, it’s well done and worth the cost of a movie ticket.