IT Film Review
Director: Andy Muschietti
Screenplay by Chase Palm & Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman Based on the novel by Stephen King
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård
Rated R for violence/horror, bloody images and language
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
*** out of *****
Photo: Warner Bros./New Line Cinema
The Losers Club attempt to uncover the mystery behind a malicious clown named Pennywise in the adaptation of Stephen King's IT.
There was a time when a new movie based on a Stephen King story was a big deal. At the time they had the virtue of having never been made and the now familiar tropes found within were fresh, original and often times scary. Before becoming TV mini-series staples, Stephen King film adaptations were quite prominent from the late 1970s into the mid-1990s. During that time we saw many classics such as CARRIE, STAND BY ME, THE SHINING, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and on the opposite side of the spectrum we had films like THE MANGLER and the author's directorial debut MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE. 2007 was the last time we witnessed some solid films based on King's work, THE MIST and 1408. Now, in 2017, one of King's most popular works, IT, receives the big screen treatment, the novel was made into a TV mini-series in 1990, and proves to be one of the better adaptations but fails to achieve the lofty standards set by the most highly regarded of adaptations.
In the novel which terrified millions of readers, a group of children encounter an evil entity which appears to them in the form of a clown named Pennywise. Decades later they once again find themselves being tormented by the evil which haunted their youth. This film focuses on the early years of the Losers Club. The yet to be filmed sequel will follow the children as adults. Having not read the novel upon which it is based I cannot comment on how faithful this approach is to the source material. That being said as written it is a very well contained story that can stand on its own and doesn't suffer from only presenting half of the novel.
I can only speak for myself and how I responded to the material but I didn't find this film particularly scary. Why? Firstly, I'm not afraid of clowns. Instead of feeling fear and dread whenever Pennywise appears I had to fight the urge to chuckle at how silly this all is. I had the same problem with the 1990 mini-series. Pennywise exploits what fears you and will manifest as such but once he takes the form he's best known for he loses his thunder. Secondly, the expected horrifying moments found within are of the cliched variety populated with jump scares we have seen done in so many other horror films from the last twenty years.
While the film may not have done its job by delivering the scares it made up for it by providing a compelling story involving likable and engaging characters. It turns out I actually prefer the parts of the film that primarily focus on the children and have limited Pennywise presence. The lone exception to this would be the slideshow which you've likely seen in the film's trailer. It's one of the best parts of the film. The cast which director Andy Muschietti assembled features a group of young up and coming actors who really breathe life, and fear, into their characters. The stand outs were Jaeden Lieberher and Sophia Lillis who play Bill Denbrough and Beverly Marsh, respectively. Of the group, Beverly's story is easily the darkest and Lillis does a fine job of conveying the fear, confusion and anxiety which permeates her life. The comradery and chemistry has drawn comparisons to other groups like those found in STAND BY ME, STRANGER THINGS or even THE MONSTER SQUAD. Bill Skarsgård stars as the title character and while his performance is quirky and sometimes over the top he does what he can to deliver the Pennywise of your dreams, or nightmares, but as I said in my case not scary.
IT is a well directed film and moves along at a nice pace. It never once feels long, the film is 135 minutes long, or feels short since it only covers half the novel. Screenwriters Chase Palm, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman have done a good job of taking part of an overall story and making it self-contained journey with a beginning, middle and satisfying end. The best parts were those which focused on the kids and surprisingly the least parts involved the title character. Had they found a way to make Pennywise scary and unnerving for anyone not predisposed to Coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, this could have been one of the best King adaptations, as well as, one of the best horror films in quite some time. As is, IT is only half a movie both figuratively and literally.
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal