Courtesy of New Line Cinema
The wait is finally over.
If you’re like me, and have been eagerly hesitant about anyone touching up one of Stephen King’s most precious novels (and after the catastrophe that was “The Dark Tower” - we should be). The elements are in place, and after spending years in development hell, minus a few directors stepping in and out of the chair, and here we are 27 years later after the 1990 miniseries of the same name with a more than worthy re-imagining from “Mama” director Andy Muschietti. The story, which follows a group of outcasts, dubbed “The Losers,” that must ward off an evil entity that takes many forms (the most notable is a clown by the name of Pennywise) serves as a timely, nostalgic, honest and terrifying rendition of the best King can do.
“IT” comes surprisingly close to being one of King’s best adaptations and the whole movie has an emotional gravitas backed by terrific chemistry from the group of young actors. With Bill Skarsgard taking on the role of the infamous and iconic “dancing clown” they call Pennywise, a role that was made even more famous by Tim Curry back in the day. The problem with the 1990 mini-series is not that it was bad, rather, the campiness oversaturated the finished product. And, if you could just watch Curry do his thing, the movie was more than bearable. Except the final third act conclusion took a turn for an unsatisfying ending, leaving many upset in it’s wake.
Thankfully, this pristine, updated, and extremely R rated outing gets the job done. Honing in on the source material, while putting a new spin on the classic story. Two of the new spins, was switching up the timeframes and, smartly, splitting the book into two movies. The film begins on a rainy day where we meet stuttering Bill (Jared Lieberher) helping his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) construct a paper boat, so he can take it for a spin. Sadly, that paper boat ends up in a sewer and well, let’s just say, that when you have a run in with the creepy Pennywise, it’s not your best day.
The film fast forwards to the next summer, where the gang of pals Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Grazer - the standout of the bunch), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) and Bill. They each have their own quirks that define them: Richie is a fast talking comic wise guy; Eddie is the groups hypochondriac, inhaling heavy doses of medication religiously; and Stanley is in the midst of planning his bar mitzvah. It's funny how we're just meeting these goofballs on the last day of school and, in seconds, it feels like we’ve known them for years.
They manage to sweep some new inductees to their squad along the way, among them Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Taylor) and even a girl named Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis). They all have an instant mesh and an immediate connection over one thing: a clown. They all start seeing their worse fears come to life one by one, and the film transitions to each encounter with gusto. For Bill, it's seeing Georgie running around the house screaming “you’ll float too!”, while Eddie has a run-in with a germ infested-like hobo zombie. The entity known as “IT”, who comes out of hibernation every 27 years, feeds on children like clockwork. And some dutiful investigation tactics by our “Losers” seems to indicate the clown is back in business. And with a sudden hike in children disappearing across the isolated town of Derry, business is good. The opening sequence alone is suffice enough to say this isn’t the 1990 mini-series you’ve seen so many times before.
Nobody could hold a candle to how Curry frightened children (like me) two decades ago, but Skarsgard, with his physicality and high-squeal pitched vocals offers the perfect balance of terrifying, and insane. My only beef with his performance, was sometimes you could tell the actor lets go too much, and the CGI infused to make him take his “true” form, took me out of the picture at times.
The smart money is, Muschietti does the tough job of keeping Pennywise out of the spotlight for most of the film (I’d say he clocks in with less than 20 minutes of screen time) leaving the child actors subplots, and bonding to do most of the work (which was the best part of the book anyhow). And with the recent resurgence of nostalgic 1980s mojo (you can thank “Stranger Things” for that), the movie doesn't feel cliche. For the record, I hope people understand that “IT” came way before “Things,” but I digress.
This is truly an excellent film that has real emotions, with real characters. And I honestly think the heartfelt message of friendship and courage is legitimately one that children in their middle school adolescents should see, alas, I can’t justify any parent letting their young child watching this movie (as good as that message is) - the film is too graphic.
For those of us old enough to buy a ticket, this should be a no-brainer. Whether or not your tolerance for horror, and, most importantly, clowns notwithstanding - the film is extremely heartfelt and funny too boot. I was grappled from the opening frame until the closing credits, and like me flipping through the pages of the novel, the film feels like a rush. A shot in the arm of a movie going season that desperately needs a hit.
You'll float too. A-