Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
If you were in elementary school in the early 1990s, you remember IT. The television mini-series starring the immortal Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown scarred many children who have vivid memories to this very day. My parents knew better, so my experience with Pennywise has been limited to YouTube clips and the first 90 pages of Stephen King’s gargantuan novel. But when the petrifying first trailer for the theatrical remake dropped earlier this year – I knew I had to see IT immediately.
During a heavy rain storm, little Georgie Denbrough inexplicably goes missing. Months later, his brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) holds out hope that he will find his younger sibling – dead or alive. He enlists the help of his friends, nicknamed The Losers Club, to assist. But as they begin to dig a bit deeper into the sewers under their town in Derry, Maine, they begin to encounter a shape-shifting demon that physically and psychologically feeds on children – and he calls himself Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).
IT is a very scary movie that more than lives up to the promise of that record-breaking first Trailer. Yes, Director Andy Muschietti’s Film (the first of a planned two-film Series) revels in horrifying jump scares involving Pennywise, but also plays into some deep-seated fears of the loss of innocence. It even gets into some rather icky territory with subplots regarding sexual abuse and bullying – which feel all too socially relevant in 2017. Others have already discussed at length how this demented clown is a literal metaphor to describe the moment(s) these characters move on from adolescence, and Muschietti mines this knowledge to great effect. What easily could have been a glossed over highlight reel from King’s book becomes something much deeper instead.
I admire Muschietti tackling these deeper themes, but it comes at the price of a schizophrenic tonal structure. All at once IT is a coming-of-age Dramedy, an 80s Adventure Flick in the vein of The Goonies, Stand by Me and current Netflix phenomenon Stranger Things, and a Horror Film filled to the brim with the stuff nightmares are made of – made scarier because the protagonists are children. I understand what an undertaking it is to develop a coherent screenplay out of King’s dense prose, and how challenging it would have been to sort through the book’s wonky timeline. But the Film never stays consistent, and it jumps a bit too often from Pennywise scaring the living hell out of the cast to Finn Wolfhard’s Richie Tozier cracking jokes about having sex with someone’s mother. It’s a delicate balancing act, and one that stumbles all too often. Thankfully the 80s setting (updated from the Book’s 50s setting), the makeup/special effects and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score do a spectacular job making up for these issues.
But IT’s biggest strength is its cast. The Losers Club members do a terrific job selling their comradery and genuine friendship in a deeper way than you might expect. Some are better-rounded than others, but they are all really well done. The true highlight is Skarsgård who recreates Pennywise in a way that will scar a whole new generation of filmgoers. His maniacal laugh is a ghastly delight, his vocal inflections are downright bone-chilling and his smile will be practically seared into your brain. This is a magnificent and star-making performance from the young actor, and one I look forward to seeing him revisit soon.
I really enjoyed IT and had a blast taking the film in with a screaming crowd. It has issues with its tonal structure and could use a bit less CGI, but they can be looked past solely because of the strength of this young cast – especially Skarsgård’s Pennywise. Just be prepared to keep the lights on when you go to sleep afterwards.
Warner Bros. Pictures Canada release IT on Friday, September 8, 2017.