It’s easy to hype yourself up for a movie, especially if it’s one you’ve been looking forward to for years. Having been a fan of the novel in which this film is based on, it was extremely difficult not to get myself excited about the adaptation to a feature film. As hard as I tried not to, I set my expectations far too high than anyone should for a movie.
Stephen Kings “IT” is a story that is well-known throughout the world of horror and could arguably be considered the reason an entire generation is scared of clowns. Having already been adapted as a made-for-TV movie in the early 90’s, “IT” has developed somewhat of a cult following over the years and despite the fact that it hasn’t exactly aged well, it’s a movie horror fans hold close to their heart.
Exactly 27 years after the original movie premiered, “IT” is now back to scare a whole new generation and I’m happy to say that not only did it surpass the original film in every way, but it stayed true to its original source material and honored King’s novel in a way that it deserved to be honored in.
Taking place in the summer of 1989 in the town of Derry, Maine, children everywhere are starting to go missing without any explanation. After his brother Georgie becomes one of them, Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) and his six friends start to make the connection that every missing child is all connected to one thing: a monster that appears to them in the form of a clown. Realizing that no one is going to do anything about it, Bill and his friends decide to ban together and kill the clown known as Pennywise before it kills them.
“IT” is a complicated story to adapt. For starters, it’s a 1,500-page novel that has two different stories intertwined into one. The first half of the story takes place when our main protagonists are children and the second half takes place 27 years later when the characters have grown up and have returned to Derry to destroy IT once and for all.
This is a story that’s difficult for even the most gifted of filmmakers to tell onscreen, but director Andres Muschietti manages to give us what I’d consider to be one the best Stephen King-based films ever made and is THIS close to being perfect.
One of the best things Muschietti has going for him is the fact that he chose to forego the adult story line and focus entirely on the children’s story. The first half of the story has always been considered to be the strongest of the two, and the movie really dives deep into these kid’s stories. With a running time of two and a half hours, we’re allowed to spend plenty of time with these kids and really get to know them. Focusing strictly on the children’s story line also allows for a lot of the most memorable scenes from the novel to come alive onscreen for the first time. Rather than having to go back and forth in time, we’re able to focus simply on one story. This allows us as the audience to care more for the characters we’re introduced to, and we care about these characters because the actors do such a fine job at bringing them to life.
It’s hard telling a story with children as the main protagonists. With a story such as this, it’s even harder because we’re being forced to rely on seven child actors to carry the entire film on their shoulders. They are the make-or-break of the movie, and I haven’t seen a group of child actors carry a film with such ease since “The Goonies” was released 30 years ago.
The performances are strong and I believed these kids were truly terrified at what was happening onscreen. Even more importantly, I believed they were all friends. The chemistry between them was some of the strongest I’ve seen on film not just this year, but in general. I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie with such strong performances from child actors, and each actor holds their own. They each get a moment to shine and while a few of them stand out more than others, they stand as one and never falter.
The only downside to having such a large cast is someone will always inevitably be left out. Such is the case for the character of Mike, played by Chosen Jacobs. We meet him early on in the film, but after a few scenes, he vanishes entirely to the point where you almost forget about him until he reappears halfway through the movie and gets re-thrown into the story. It feels almost forced, like the writers forgot he was a character and suddenly had to find a way to bring him back in. It doesn’t feel as natural or smooth as the rest of the kid’s introductions and I can only hope if we’re given a sequel that Mike has a more of a chance to grow onscreen.
“IT”’s biggest draw has always been of the titular character himself. A lot of anticipation was felt as we all wondered how he’d be portrayed onscreen and whether or not he’d live up to the performance given in the original TV movie. The short answer is yes. Bill Skarsgard, the actor behind the makeup, delivers a terrifying and captivating performance that will stand out as one of the best of the year. In the original film, Pennywise came off as a comedic character who spent more of his time telling jokes than actually terrorizing the kids around him. In this version, however, all the humor is taken away and replaced with endless amounts of terror. We don’t see Pennywise as much as you’d expect, and he only makes a few sporadic appearances throughout the movie, but each time he does it’s memorable and guaranteed to make the hair on your arms stand up straight. When it’s time for you to go to bed, every time you close your eyes you’ll see nothing but his face haunting your dreams. Skarsgard’s performance will stay with you long after the movie is over.
With how terrifying Pennywise is, it’s a shame that his performance is sometimes hurt by the poorly done CGI that is used when he transforms himself into various monsters. I wish the filmmakers would have opted to use more practical effects instead of CGI, or at least spent more time on smoothing out the effects. At times, the effects came off almost video game-like and I found it to be extremely distracting.
The real question with this movie: is “IT” scary? Yes…to a point. “IT” does a fantastic job at building up tension and provides for a number of tense scenes with well-executed jump scares that don’t feel too cliche. I’m almost positive you’re bound to jump at least once or twice, and you’ll definitely feel the knots turning inside you when the build-up happens, but the movie isn’t as terrifying as I was wanting it to be. Something felt off, and although good, there are so many jump scares they become predictable and slightly slip into the cliche of the genre. The biggest problem with the scares are they happen too fast. They build it up so good, but once the “boo” moment happens, the scene is rushed and it’s over and sometimes it’s hard to tell what you’re seeing onscreen. That doesn’t mean, though, that the nearly sold-out theater didn’t scream their heads off throughout the movie or the guy sitting next to me wasn’t jumping out of his seat every 10 seconds.
What is perhaps even scarier than the kid’s encounters with IT himself are the encounters they have with the seemingly normal people around them who are monsters.
Aside from being tormented by Pennywise, the kids are harassed by a group of bullies led by a boy named Henry Bowers. Bowers and his gang terrify them just as much, if not more, than the clown itself. In fact, some of the hardest scenes to watch in this film are simply when the kids are being picked on by Bowers. This reminds us that sometimes the scariest thing in life isn’t the possibility of monsters being real, but mankind itself.
“IT” wasn’t a perfect movie, but was so close to hitting the mark. It was everything I was hoping it would be and lived up to my expectations for the most part. I couldn’t have really asked for a better adaption, and it is far superior to the original film. The performances are spot-on and in addition to being scary, the movie is also really funny, even cute and charming at times. One minute your hands will be covering your ears from fear, and the next your hands will be covering your heart from how touching it is. It’s the perfect blend of horror and comedy. If John Hughes was to ever make a horror movie, I imagine it would’ve looked something a lot like this one.
The bottom line: despite its minor poor character development and disappointing CGI, “IT” is not only the best horror movie to be released in years, but is also one of the better movies I’ve seen in general. It’s been a long eight-year wait, but when you finally see the movie, you’ll tell yourself it was worth it. Whether you’re a horror fan or not, you’ll walk out of the movie feeling glad you watched it…and maybe stopping by Walmart on the way home to purchase a night light.