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IT (Movie Review)

IT (Movie Review)
09.09.2017by: Eric Walkuski
8 10

PLOT: Seven young friends learn their town is cursed by a demonic entity that feasts on children.

REVIEW: Longtime fans of Stephen King's 1986 opus IT needn't worry: This film has honored the text and brought it to life in most impressive fashion. IT gets just about everything right, from the casting of its young protagonists, The Losers Club, to the chilly atmosphere of a funereal small American town. Director Andy Muschietti has crafted an adaptation that fully embodies what a big-screen Stephen King movie should look like. While IT may not enter the upper echelon of King adaptations (where STAND BY ME, SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and MISERY reside), it surely gets the job done most persuasively.

Derry is a cursed town. Every 27 years or so, a rash of tragedies plague the place, with children appearing to be especially susceptible to whatever grim thing is responsible. It's the kind of horror the adults seem blind to - consciously or not - but a current flock of youngsters become intricately attuned to the disturbing phenomenon. This is kicked off by an unsettling opening sequence which sees the gruesome kidnapping of Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), younger brother to "Stuttering" Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), who with his small group of friends decides to investigate the incident even as the town at large appears to quickly move on, with disappearing children becoming a normal occurrence.

IT movie review Stephen King Bill Skarsgard Pennywise horror

Bill is aided in his quest for answers by a ragtag assortment of misfits and, well, losers. Richie (Finn Wolfhard) is an amiable jokester; Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) is an asthmatic hypochondriac; Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) is a worry-wart; Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is the overweight new kid in town; Mike (Chosen Jacobs) is full of guilt about the death of his parents; and Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is a tomboy with severe daddy issues. Together they are the Losers Club, and they alone have the power (whether they know it or not) to take a stand against the evil force in their town, a supernatural entity that takes the shape of a clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). Pennywise is a jovial cretin with a knack for striking at you where you hurt most; it taps into your innermost fears and pains and uses them against you.

Plenty of people know IT and Pennywise not from the novel but from the 1990 miniseries, which famously featured Tim Curry playing the titular monster and one cast of child actors and one cast of TV actors as the Losers Club 27 years later. That series isn't nearly as scary as it was when many of us saw it back in the day, but there's no question it remains a staple of the genre. Muschietti's IT wisely pins its focus on the childhood sections of the book as opposed to pivoting back and forth between the past and the present. It worked in the novel, and to varying degrees in the miniseries, but IT correctly allows the young characters - and the terrific young actors - to take center stage without having to share running time with their older counterparts. Besides, these kids are simply good enough to carry an entire movie on their shoulders.

Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgard, is a mixed bag for me. Too many of his appearances have unnecessary CGI in them, making him look a bit wonky and thus diminishing the end result. That said, when Skarsgard - underneath a frighteningly convincing make-up job - is allowed to exude creepiness and evil without any digital interference, the effect is legitimate. He's a very unnerving clown indeed. (Although major fans of Tim Curry's Pennywise will probably still prefer his gravelly-voiced incarnation; Skarsgard's Pennywise yelps with the feverish excitement of a cartoon character.)

The movie's real strength lies with its main cast, as they are all phenomenal. Truth be told, there isn't a weak link in the chain; as a group they interact convincingly, while each gives a stand-out performance when isolated. Tough to pick an MVP since they're all so good, but it's easy to thoroughly enjoy Finn Wolfhard's wisecracking Richie (the kid just has great comedic timing). Sophia Lillis' Beverly is the character who breaks our heart the most, for it is she who maybe has the most intense sequences, and the young actress is clearly up to the tough challenges Beverly must endure. (Actually, the film's most skin-crawling moment might be an icky run-in Beverly has with a rather unappealing pharmacist.) Seeing it a second time, I was struck by just how sweet Jeremy Ray Taylor's Ben is (try not to go "awww" during a few of his interactions with Beverly), and how many electric and entertaining moments Jack Dylan Grazer's Eddie has. They're all wonderful, let's leave it at that.

The film has a palpable atmosphere of dread and uneasiness, and that's thanks to Muschietti, who nails both the nostalgic and frightening angles of the story. He also evidently knows how to orchestrate his youthful stars. The sequences when the Losers Club are together, either hanging around or plotting their next move, have an authentic feel that is crucial to ensuring this thing will work. Muschietti knows that making the kids' relationships feel genuine is key to hoisting up the entire movie; if we didn't like them and buy their friendship, all the jump scares in the world wouldn't matter. But because the Losers have been cast so well, and because their interactions are convincing and gripping, we're invested in their troubles. As a director of horror, Muschietti is very capable; there are a handful of standard spooks and shocks, but it's in the building up to the big gasps when Muschietti really shows his chops. He proves to be a fine engineer of slow-burn scares, as was hinted at in his feature debut, MAMA.

IT movie review Stephen King Bill Skarsgard Pennywise horror

Minor quibbles: IT's a little longish. At 2 hours and 15 minutes, the film could stand to be cut by maybe 10 minutes (a few scare sequences are fairly similar to the point where losing one or two of them wouldn't alter much). The score by Benjamin Wallfisch gets to be overbearing sometimes, telegraphing frights when complete silence might have been the way to go. It almost seems to me that the score is wall-to-wall, but that might not be accurate. In any case, it distracted me once in a while, but it's far from a deal breaker.

As mentioned, I've seen IT twice now, and walked away very satisfied both times. Thanks to an enthusiastic cast and a director who knows how to bring the particular world of Stephen King to life, IT is easily one of the best horror films of the year, and I personally cannot wait for Part 2.

Extra Tidbit: IT opens September 8th

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