(Submitted by our own Mr. Anton Phibes…Thanks, Ho-rror Ho-mie! 🙂 xoxo)
To say that expectations were high for 2017’s IT would be a grotesque understatement. Based on the best-selling Stephen King novel, the film is the second adaptation of the material, following the much beloved miniseries. Before even a single frame of this latest version came to be, a thunderous jolt of anticipation struck film-goers like a circus locomotive. Thousands of think pieces, fan art, and parodies sprouted up when the very first image of “IT” was released, and that goes doubly so for the trailer. IT was a bonafide cultural phenomena before it was projected on a single screen. Living up to such monstrous adaptations seems impossible, but does IT succeed? With a big grease-painted grin, I’m very pleased to report that IT is every bit the monsterpiece we had hoped for.
Stephen King’s novel is a massive work of fiction told through narratives alternating between two timelines, so the film wisely adapts the half of the novel that focuses on the seven protagonists as kids. The film advances the setting from the 1950s to the late ’80s, but still maintains much of the source material. In the movie, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and Stan (Wyatt Oleff) are all social outcasts in their own way. United by their misfit status, they develop a tight-knit relationship and dub themselves the “Losers’ Club”. When a malevolent shape-shifting killer targets them, the unconventional heroes must conquer their fears to conquer “IT”.
IT is a lot like King’s Stand By Me, but with an eldritch abomination creeping about. It’s almost as much a coming-of-age story as it is a monster movie. Sure, the clown is a fright to behold, but the children are undeniably the heart of the story. Their struggles, their quirks, and their interactions feel so very real that it’s easy to forget that these are actors reading from a script. They are the kind of “geeky” kids you may have known (or been) growing up, with all the flaws and idiosyncrasies that come with such children. All are incredibly lovable, making the horror (both otherworldly and mundane) that befalls them unbearable. Both their chemistry and individual charms are what elevate this film to greatness and achieve the impressive feat of making a film about a child-eating clown monster heartwarming.
Of course, even with an exceptional group of heroes, a monster movie still needs a credible monster… oh boy! does It succeed in that regard! Actor Bill Skarsgard had some big floppy shoes to fill after Tim Curry’s turn in the miniseries, but he works sorcery here as Pennywise, the clown form of “IT”. Pennywise’s initial appearances in this film are almost inviting, but there’s always that sense that he’s plotting… and hungry. Even in his most clownishly charming moments, he can barely conceal his ghastly appetite. As the film progresses, Pennywise grows more and more demonic in a truly unsettling fashion. It’s the stuff of nightmares.
There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not the new “IT” is superior to the old one.The way I see it, Tim Curry and Bill Skarsgard are to Pennywise what Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee are to Dracula: two unique actors giving equally brilliant performances as the same monster. Bill Skarsgard’s interpretation is considerably different than Curry’s, but still magnificent in its own way. Curry was pretty darn funny as the hellish harlequin, giving him a comedic edge that makes his more violent moments genuinely shocking. Skarsgard had a more overtly diabolical quality that is still quite effective. Regardless of which performance you prefer, I think most of us can agree that Bill Skarsgard is a worthy “IT” for a new generation. Bravo to both clowns!
Despite its cast of children, IT is a fairly disturbing movie with some wonderfully nasty bits. Some of the most beautifully wicked scares you’ll see in a big budget fright film are lurking in this film. From the gory to the surreal, there’s a shock here for every taste. There are even some scenes that have an old-fashioned Gothic flavor to them, most of which take place in what is perhaps the best “haunted house” set I’ve seen in years. If you like a wide variety of creepy things, IT’s the spook show for you.
With an already killer box office intake and fabulous reviews, there’s little doubt that a sequel based on the novel’s second half is on its way. In fact, there’s one teased at the very end of the film. While I’ll certainly miss the child actors, I have no doubt that the next one will be another sensational work of horror cinema. I look forward to seeing Pennywise dance again. As for this current installment, stop clowning around and see it as soon as you can! Beep Beep!