Who wants to go float?
I must admit, I fell onto the hype train over the new IT film. Stephen King was my first introduction to horror, and the novel and original miniseries served as one of my gateways into being a fan of the genre. I have been excited for this film for months, but there was a moment of hesitation when we arrived at the theater: what do I do if it is terrible?
People have been incorrectly labeling this as a remake—it isn’t. This is the first time Pennywise has been given the full theatric treatment. The much beloved Tim Curry TV miniseries worked on a significantly smaller budget, and did not have the same leeway that a full feature film does. Complaining about remakes is valid in a lot of cases, but not here.
Another possible concern is that King’s works have a severely mixed track record when it comes to adapting them. Just last month or so The Dark Tower bombed so hard it is no longer in theaters. Previous adaptations of The Mist have been great where 1408 felt a little too boilerplate.
IT takes such an important role in a lot of people’s minds that it is probably a good thing the film has taken so long to get off the ground. They had to get it perfect or people would be furious. Guess what, they did get it nearly perfect.
About thirty minutes into the film a feeling came over me that I have not felt since watching The Fellowship of the Ring in theaters. They got the adaptation right. The characters, pacing, dialogue, directing, imagery, and sound all work to create a tapestry that simply felt special to watch unfold. I haven’t been this giddy about a film in years. Honestly, I had thought that it was something I would not experience again.
Waves of nostalgia permeated throughout my mind as I watched the film. The film feels authentic in a similar way to Stranger Things. Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) does a marvelous job bringing back that old childhood creep of the incomprehensible evil. His rendition is different from Curry’s, and in my opinion it is the stronger of the two. Pennywise in this movie loves to terrorize more than to torture. There is violence—particularly in the opening, but Pennywise feeds on fear more than flesh.
As our childhood heroes (more on them below) begin to be stalked by Pennywise we are treated to a series of bizarre and rapid-hitting scenes that certainly amp the tension up. Director Andy Muschietti does a fantastic job, but one area I want to point out specifically is how Pennywise moves. It is jerky, odd, and seems to defy physics. I enjoyed this aspect as it removes Pennywise from our realm of reality and into something that simply does not belong on this plane of existence. I imagine this might be a bit of a sticking point with some people. A lot of stylistic decisions have the potential to be divisive, but they resonated with me.
The pacing allows us to get to know the characters. King is good at building full communities within his novels. The characters feel genuine, and this goes a long way in establishing a connection with the audience. As so many horror movies more or less don’t bother with character development, this one flies directly against that trend.
The kids we follow, known as the losers at school, are an interesting hodge-podge of the bullied, ostracized, and simply out of place. Every single one of the kids does a great job, and I highly suggest keeping on eye on these young talents as time goes on. The first link I put above will lead you to the cast and crew. Jaeden Lieberher in particular does impressive work as Bill, our stuttering and sickly hero. After Bill’s brother goes missing in a rainstorm we watch the narrative unfold in what will ultimately be a violent confrontation with an evil these kids simply cannot understand.
While the kids do great, the show stealer is absolutely Pennywise. He is twisted, scary, and funny at the same time. His mania makes him unpredictable. There is a hint of indifference in some of his actions—it isn’t clear whether he just wants to scare the kids for a laugh or to actually consume them in many moments.
Bullied children finding themselves in the face of great and cruel evil is something that King is known for. As much as this is a horror film, it is also a coming-of-age tale, and Muschiette and crew thread this needle with adept grace.
The film only covers the first half of the novel, and I do think this was a wise decision. If the film does well (which it is certainly forecasted to) they will create the second half. The theater we went to was packed, and the audience got sucked into the story in a great way. We all laughed together, and there was a shared experience that is hard to put into words. I hope it is the case when you see it (if you do).
One of the best things about this film is that they went ahead and gave it an R rating. This not only allows Pennywise to be completely unbridled, but we also get to enjoy Richie’s (Finn Wolfhard) foul mouth. They gave Richie the best lines, and while he is kind of an ass (he reminds me of me as a kid a little too much for comfort) his smart mouth pumps life into every scene.
While I truly loved this film, and it has overtaken The Snare as my favorite film of 2017, there are a couple problems. First, in the latter chunk of the narrative it is discovered that Pennywise wants to separate the kids from each other. They all know this, but they still willingly walk away from the group. My wife and I have a slight disagreement here; she thinks that Pennywise is able to manipulate the kids in a way that forces them apart. This may be true, but I would have liked to see a stronger hint or direct explanation towards the idea. I appreciate that this is a small gripe.
My larger complaint is that when the scenes get kinetic with more than two people involved (when Pennywise is alone or with only one victim this is not a problem) the camera gets a little heavy on the editing. The cuts are excessive, and in the moments of the climax it becomes a little hard to tell what is going on. This was the only point in the movie that I got pulled out completely. I am still going to score this film incredibly high. IT deserves recognition for not only living up to its namesake, but by proving that mainstream horror films can have a heart, brain, and guts. This is the horror movie I have been waiting for all year. 10/10