IT Movie Review
*Before you read, note that the first half of this review is spoiler-free. I will give a warning before adding any spoilers in the second half of this review*
This has certainly been a long time coming. The 1986 horror novel which literally spawned a phobia and wove itself into American pop culture history has finally made it's debut on the big screen.
And it was fantastic.
The 1990 mini series starring Tim Curry had it's own campy charm, and many thought that Curry's portrayal of the otherworldly Pennywise The Dancing Clown left shoes far too big to fill (if you'll pardon the pun), even with modern advancements in film technology. From this writer's perspective, those fears were allayed within the first ten minutes of the film. Bill Skarsgard went above and beyond in his portrayal of the iconic antagonist, playing up the silly clown aspect just enough while also making convincing transitions into the menacing character we have all come to fear.
With that out of the way, we are on to the plot itself. The film unquestionably achieved greatly in capturing the main theme Stephen King outlined all those years ago: Growing up. We got a look at multiple ends of the childhood experience, covering the indelible bond of young friendship, small town summer fun, peer pressure, bullies, and (heartbreakingly) the abuse which some kids are forced to grow up around. Having young actors who could give such convincing performances didn't hurt matters either. I thought every member of The Loser's Club turned in an excellent performance, and the only criticism I have regarding the kids at all would be that we simply didn't get enough of Mike and Stan for my liking. Stan acted almost as plot fodder, while Mike was scarcely present enough to allow audiences to develop an opinion on way or the other. Stan however, had one of the creepiest scenes in the movie, which I will cover in the spoiler section of this review.
Beyond that, the film stayed mostly loyal to the novel, with some diversions which were equal parts hit and miss. As a lifelong reader, I am a platinum member of the annoying group of moviegoers which you will often hear in theater lobbies loudly proclaiming, "The book was better". That being said, some of the changes made to the movie were certainly upgrades from the book, and even allowed viewers with some unique perspectives which maybe they hadn't quite arrived at individually. Certainly, the visuals were absolutely stunning, and some of the subtleties and nuances which Skarsgard and the Losers Club were able to provide viewers with added immensely to the overall experience of the story. Was everything perfect? Absolutely not, but very few movies have earned that distinction, if any at all.
One bone of contention (which I will expand upon in the spoilers section) is that they just showed us too much damn Pennywise. I love the character, and my eyes would not leave him any time he was on the screen, but showing "the monster" too much can detract from the scares. Look at Jaws as an example: How often did you get to see the shark in the movie before the end when it gobbles up Robert Shaw? Only glimpses and quick shots. Hell, we spend more time looking at things from the sharks own perspective! Did it ruin the movie to show Pennywise so much? I don't think so, but it did effectively eliminate defuse some scare opportunities.
Overall, the movie met and exceeded my expectations. Despite some choices and additions I didn't agree with, it captured exactly what every King or horror fan could possibly want in a film, blending King's expansive universe with some modern horror film-making expertise to deliver a fun, and incredibly frightening treat.
Overall: 8.9 out of 10
*SPOILERS FROM HERE ON*
If you’re reading this, you’ve either already seen the film or you’re a weirdo and you don’t give a fuck about ruining your movie experience. I’m going to format this into two sections: “Thumbs Up” and “Thumbs Down”. I feel like this will be an easy method for getting out some of my quick takeaways from the film. Whether you agree or not, please comment, share, like on Facebook, and enjoy!
Stan and the Painting
The scene with Stan which I mentioned earlier is probably no real surprise (especially because he was basically a background character for the rest of the film). The woman coming out of the painting to torment him was incredibly frightening and gave me one of the biggest scares of the film. King has always been good with capturing the little things which freak people out, whether it be basement stairs through which your ankle could easily be grabbed, reaching for a light switch in a dark room and being afraid something will touch your hand, or the idea that a painting is watching you. The film took this one step further by having the creepy lady escape the painting, adding a fun element which wasn’t present in the book.
Making Eddie more fun
In the book and the miniseries, Eddie Kaspbrak, while incredibly brave, was like a sheepish little old man in a kid body. He’s always been a great character and added a lot to the story, but he was almost a caricature of a neurotic child. The new Eddie remained neurotic but also had some laugh out loud moments which made the movie a lot more fun. His sarcastic wit in tandem with his fear of all germs and illness made for a more likely characterization of a kid out trying to enjoy summer with a group of his friends.
The adults being off
A major part of the book is that the town of Derry is almost a character unto itself. The town just seeps evil, and anyone who has spent an extended period of time in that environment starts to change in some way or another. Not many adults were really shown throughout the film, but the handful who were didn’t just act strange, but they also looked pretty strange. It’s hard to put your finger on, but they all looked like they were sick or even weirdly fake. Kind of like incredibly realistic mannequins. On top of that, they all seemed to have evil intentions or, at the very least, were criminally uninterested in putting a stop to the evil which was clearly taking its toll on the town. Notice how the kids were pretty much allowed to roam free in spite of the fact that children were going missing in town? The adults just didn’t much seem to care.
With the intense horror which the movie delivers, over two hours would be like running a mental marathon without some comedic relief. I already mentioned how Eddie loosened up a little in this version, but most of the characters had laugh-out-loud moments which eased the tension in the theater. Richie, the jokester of the group, delivered plenty of laughs, but the one which got me the most was Ben and his secret affection for New Kids on the Block. The scene in his room where Beverly teases him was one of my favorite moments in the film
I can’t say enough good things about Bill Skarsgard here. He absolutely nailed the role and breathed new life into a character which many thought was too hard to take on. For most horror fans, filling in as Pennywise after the performance given by Tim Curry is akin to somebody trying to portray Brando’s Vito Corleone in The Godfather. Skarsgard did an incredible job and had plenty of moments which could act as nightmare fuel.
Too much damn Pennywise
I know this sounds like it contradicts my final entry under “Thumbs Up”, but hear me out. Like I said, Pennywise was incredible and was absolutely magnetic while on the screen, but showing him too much is a quick way to neuter a frightening character. Pennywise is a talker, which is perfectly fine, but in this case, he just had way too many lines. The scene where he actually says something to the effect of, “Yes, sweet delicious fear”, was entirely unnecessary, serving only as a vomit of exposition and reeking of bad writing. Also, just seeing him too much is no good. One scene in particular which sticks out for me is Pennywise being in the tall grass watching Mike as he is tormented by Henry and his gang. At first, the visual was pretty shocking, as Mike looks across the creek to see a clown enjoying watching his beating. Then, however, Pennywise waves a severed child’s arm at Mike. This sounds creepy, but it was unintentionally hilarious, and drew laughter from the theater, thereby breaking any tension the scene built. Finally, and worst of all, was when Pennywise was getting the living shit kicked out of him by the entire Loser’s Club at the end of the film. In a moment which was supposed to be triumphant, we were instead forced to watch as the scariest antagonist Stephen King has ever created was beat down like a character in the first Mortal Kombat movie. Again, the kids opening up a can of whoop-ass on Pennywise lead to some laughter in the theater.
Andy Muschietti CGI
Some of the CGI moments were phenomenal. Particularly, I loved the garage scene where an enormous Pennywise begins to attack the kids as the light flicks on and off rapidly. However, most of the CGI effects left a lot to be desired. If you’ve ever seen the end of Muschietti’s movie Mama, I think you are familiar with his brand of CGI. Whoever was in charge of it for Mama was unquestionably involved on this project as well. Simply put, it is unrealistic and sometimes unnecessary. The lady in the painting gets a pass because she is a painting come to life and probably wouldn’t look very realistic, but a lot of the other stuff was absolute junk. Specifically, the leper was very disappointing. It didn’t look at all convincing and I was left wondering why Muschietti didn’t just opt for someone in makeup. With some of the incredible makeup artists out there, I have no doubt it would have been much more terrifying to see an actual human looking like they were literally falling apart. I supposed some of the Pennywise effects couldn’t be helped (like when he fucking unhinges his jaws to reveal a mouthful of grotesquely sharp teeth), but I hope that in the future, filmmakers only use CGI when their backs are against the wall.
All the lost kids actually floating
Stephen King has a lot of tricks and tropes which he includes from story to story. One such trick is his catchphrase. In Pet Semetary is was, “Sometimes dead is better”, in Misery it was, “I’m your number one fan”, and in IT the catchphrase was, “We all float down here”. Well, I don’t know if it was Muschietti or the screenwriter, but somebody took this line quite literally. In the book, Pennywise would fucking eat the kids he caught, not make them float in the air like some weird mobile above a crib. Sometimes a catchphrase can be just that and it doesn’t have to have some deeper, plot-driven meaning.