Pennywise is hungry, kids.
There's a danger in remaking something people love. Granted, It isn't a remake of the 1990 version that many people remember; this movie is technically unrelated, a direct adaptation of the book. And it's a more faithful one, too, as the filmmakers were able to get away with much more in an R-rated movie in 2017 than ABC could allow in a made-for-TV special 27 years ago.
Even so, plenty of Stephen King fans look back fondly on that version, especially for Tim Curry's menacing portrayal of the murderous clown Pennywise. Those same fans may be skeptical--justifiably, given how many classics get mangled these days--that the 1,100-page It can be chopped up like so, half of it stuffed into this single movie.
Those fears aren't unfounded, but they are for naught, because the new It is phenomenally scary, funny, and heartfelt. It's beautiful to look at, even when terrible to behold. Bill Skarsgard's new interpretation of Pennywise the Dancing Clown doesn't trod on what Curry accomplished, but carves its own path through horror history. The new '80s setting is well-used, but not overused. And It is a satisfying trip from beginning to end, despite drawing from only half the source material.
It is the story of a murderous clown who terrorizes the fictional town of Derry, Maine by kidnapping and murdering kids, whose bodies are never found. It's also the story of an age-old creature who feasts on the fear of its vulnerable victims. Finally, it's a coming-of-age tale for the Losers Club, a ragtag band of misfits whose problems don't stop at bullies and a supernatural bozo.
This version of It--which, by the time the credits roll, has gained the subtitle "Chapter 1"--concerns itself only with these characters as kids, unlike the book and the mini-series, both of which jumped between time periods to also show them returning to Derry 27 years later. (That will be Chapter 2, on which the filmmakers are thankfully already hard at work.)
The group includes Ben, a lovestruck dork; Eddie, a sheltered hypochondriac; Mike, a home-schooled outcast; Stan, a skeptic; the comedian, Richie; the abused and beloved Beverly Marsh; and Bill, whose younger brother Georgie becomes Pennywise's first victim in the movie's opening minutes.
The kids are great, particularly Sophia Lillis as Bev and Stranger Things' Finn Wolfhard as Richie. Bev appears to the audience as she appears to the boys: Simultaneously older than her years and more or less innocent, despite the abuse inflicted by her father, which It does not shy from. Her bond with each character feels real and important, while the movie, like the mini-series before it, mercifully leaves out that infamous sex scene from the book.
Wolfhard as Richie is nothing short of hilarious. This kid is seriously funny, way moreso than in Stranger Things. Get ready to laugh like a 13-year-old at Richie's many, many dick jokes. Watching the whole gang curse like tiny sailors and sling insults toward one another's mothers feels realistic, not forced the way it might have if the writing and acting were worse. Their dynamic alone is worth the R-rating. (Wolfhard's casting in It, by the way, was not a result of Stranger Things' success; more like Stranger Things' success was a lucky coincidence for It.)
That's not what you're here for, though. What about Pennywise? Can any other actor be as tremendously alarming, as complex, as terrifying as Tim Curry in this role? Wisely, Skarsgard doesn't try to be, which is partially what got him the role. He and director Andy Muschietti developed their own version of Pennywise without trying to emulate Curry's iconic portrayal, and it paid off. This Pennywise is more infantile, and occasionally creepier for it; without Curry's cartoonish, gruff New York accent, Pennywise seems more innocent--until his teeth come out.
There's also the drool--lots of it. Skarsgard does things with his face that have to be partially aided by CGI, but the drool is all real, and you'll sink back into your seat as you witness it pour from the clown's mouth in huge, shining globs and strands. Pennywise is hungry, kids, and he can't wait to taste you.
The clown becomes more and more menacing as the kids come closer to confronting him, even as they grow more determined. It feels slightly disjointed--occasionally even predictable--as each member of the Losers Club encounters, and escapes, Pennywise in turn. But that's the classic story's structure, and it's much better-paced than if they'd tried to jam both the kid and adult storylines in. Some fans cried foul about that, but it may have been the filmmakers' smartest decision--that, or casting Skarsgard.
Naturally, It also benefits from 2017's SFX technology. Some of the scares are cheesy, but at the same time they feel faithful to how the kids would see them, like a benign painting that seems frightening to a child's wild imagination. In It, that painting comes to life and chases you around the house. There are some jump scares, but just as many chills come from steady build-ups and simple, well-earned moments of terror, not to mention the stark revulsion of, say, seeing a child's arm get ripped off. It goes there, simply because there's nothing holding the movie back.
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At the same time, it's shockingly funny, even down to the way it uses the '80s setting to, for example, land a truly impressive number of New Kids on the Block jokes. And wherever It adds to the original story, it does so with purpose and thoughtfulness, especially in one late-movie addition that actually improves on King's work in a significant and important way.
The new It feels self-contained, a full journey with a logical end point. It leaves room for the sequel--it had to--but if that sequel never got made (which seems unlikely after seeing Chapter 1), this would still be a great horror film.
When that title card at the end appears and the closing credits start to play, you're likely to feel relief--not just the tension leaving your body as it does at the end of any scary movie, but relief that 2017's It is the rare adaptation that does the original justice while crafting its own identity, too. The only people likely to feel disappointed are actual clowns, whose chosen profession is, unfortunately, not about to get more popular any time soon.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Great variety of scares||Predictable story structure|