Next to “The Shining”, “IT” is one of my favourite Stephen King books and I was probably one of the few people that was actually excited with the initial announcement of a remake. The book follows a group of eleven year olds, “The Losers Club”, battling the shape-shifting entity “IT’ in Derry, Maine. IT has the ability to transform into their greatest fears but it’s most popular form is that of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. In the book, the Losers Club battle It in 1958, and then again 27 years later as adults. This film places the kids in 1989, and part II will follow them 27 years later.
The 1990 miniseries with Tim Curry as the titular IT is a childhood memento for many people, who refused (and still refuse) to see anyone else in the role. I watched the miniseries when I was about twenty, and although some scenes were definitely creepy I found the overall film somewhat campy.
Devoid of childhood attachment, I was able to accept that a new actor would be portraying Pennywise. Since I didn’t hold the miniseries near and dear to my heart I was also curious to see what another director could do with the source material. “True Detective” director Cary Fukunaga was originally slated to direct, and although his departure was unfortunate I had faith that Andres Muschietti (Mama) could also deliver. Mama had its flaws but was a great horror film for the most part.
Due to all the comparisons to Tim Curry and the persisting attachment to the mini-series, I can’t do a proper review without comparing the two interpretations. Firstly, 2017’s “IT” actually looks more like the version described in the book, in terms of his clothing. King never described Pennywise’s facial details in detail, but he described the silver suit, the orange pom-poms, the white hair and reddish-orangish hair. Due to people’s poor reasoning skills or inability to read the “From Stephen King” banners that accompany every trailer, many people forget that this film is not just a remake of the miniseries. It is a different adaptation of older source material.
There were plenty of people who immediately rejected the new Pennywise, saying it was trying to hard to look creepy, too different etc. This brings up one point I have to make. To this day, you can find people who think Jack Nicholson was a better joker than Heath Ledger, simply because they saw him first and got attached. If you are attached to Tim Curry, there is pretty much nothing that can make you accept a new take. The same people who complained about the new Pennywise looking too serious and not as jovial as Curry’s, are probably the same people saying the 2017 Pennywise was too goofy after they saw the movie (if they bothered seeing the movie at all). There is no point trying to convince these people that the new adaptation also does the character justice.
Skarsgard had big shoes to fill, and he shines while doing it. The mannerisms, the voice all make you forget about the actor underneath. Skarsgard truly inhabits the character and the writing gives us something inhuman and creepy. Pennywise has his own sense of humour, and for the most part, I think the humour doesn’t bring the character into the campy realm. There are some jokes added in that weren’t in the book, some work better than others but overall Pennywise strikes a great balance between utter terror and black humour.
What ultimately diminishes Pennywise, and the movie the most, is the use of weak CGI. Practical effects are used for some shots, but there is also considerable CGI for Pennywise’s face and the various forms he takes. When Muscietti was attached to the project, I expressed worries that the biggest weakness in Mama, the poor rendering of the title monster, would carry over to this film and bring IT down. It looks like I was right. Even some of the practical effects look poorly done, with make-up that seems cheap and dulled the tension of key scenes since I couldn’t help but critique some of the effects when I was supposed to be scared of them.
Every horror film attracts hordes of people who brag about how funny the movie was and how little they were scared. I definitely don’t claim to be one of those people but I have to say that some of the scares would have been more effective with better visual effects. The infamous (if you’ve read the book) opening scene springs to mind as one that was tense and frightening, but also hampered due to the CGI. Then again, the budget was $35 million so I guess Muschietti once again made due with what he had.
Some of the trailers left me worried the film would rely too heavily on jump scares. Jump scares are my least favourite since their impact dies once you have seen the film once. There may have been one or two many, but there is also one jump scare that stands out as one of the film’s best scenes. Fortunately, It doesn’t rely on jump scares and my mind keeps going back to scenes where my heart rate quickened because of the atmosphere and imagery that the director subjected me to.
Thankfully the performances are solid for the most part. Finn Wolfhard, of “Stranger Things”, is a stand out as Richie Tozier but It boasts a stable of talented young actors. Jaden Lieberher is also amazing as Bill Denborough, along with Sophia Lills as Beverly Marsh and Jack Grazer as Eddie Kasprak. I mention these actorss first because they were amazing, but also because their characters get the most development. Balancing seven character intros and backstories was a tall feat for a book, which is why the book was over 1000 pages. Trying to condense all that history into a two hour film is a tough task, and it resulted in casualties. Mike Hanlon probably suffers the most in relation to his book counterpart, and then Ben Hanscom. I felt like Stanley Uris was the least developed in the book but Mike has that status here, while Stan has the weakest actor in my opinion.
Some characters get less backstory, which also means some of their fears get glossed over in the film. In the book, we understand what the characters fear before they are exposed to it. Ben, who is a central member of The Losers Club is confronted by Pennywise before we see what he is afraid of. This also serves to dull the impact of the scene since one of the most interesting things about Pennywise is how he feeds of their childhood fears. An extra fifteen minutes could have helped to spread the love in terms of backstory and development for Mike and Ben.
There are some scenes that I am very glad the director cut, such as the scene where a young Beverly Marsh has sex with all of the members of the Losers Club, one by one. Yes, really. I was reading that scene on the bus while the girl beside me peered over. That was a very awkward bus ride.
One thing I did love about the film was that it did not shy away from the themes and violence in the book. IT is ultimately about friendship and the loss of innocence, while Beverly’s story offers the clearest indication of this message, we don’t need a child orgy to get that message. The main character, Bill loses his little brother to IT and that loss becomes the domino that unites the club. The characters face their fears and face challenges that adults are unable to help them with. They become independent in a sense and learn to find their own place in a world that is often hostile to them. Although the Losers Club has some members that weren’t developed as well, I loved the chemistry between the actors and the bond that they were able to portray on screen. This bond is the glue of the film and the book, and I think it is what allows me to say I liked the film, despite my seemingly numerous critiques.
As I have also said in my previous post, this film does not borrow anything from Stranger Things, except one actor. All of the accusations that It is inspired by “Stranger Things” reek of idiocy. The time period has been changed to the 1980s, but that is only to modernize the next film, which will take place in the present day. King wrote It in 1986, so he set the kids earlier in 1957/58 and set the adults in the 1980s. Either way, one of these films will take place in the 1980s.
Also, It started filming prior to “Stranger Things” being released on Netflix. Why would filmmakers decide to copy a Netflix show that hasn’t been released yet. What else reminds you of “Stranger Things”? Kids fighting a monster? That goes back to the 1986 book. A group of kids who are considered losers fighting a monster? That goes back to the 1986 book.
I digress, IT is a new adaptation of King’s work that breathes life into the terror from the book, while also offering a story of friendship that makes the film greater than the sum of its parts.