'It' (2017) Movie Review
By: Rami Nawfal
27 years have elapsed since the first adaptation of “It”, one of renowned novelist Stephen King’s most prominent books. That inaugural adaptation came in the form of a 1990 TV miniseries starring Tim Curry. So technically, this means that the 2017 film currently out in theaters is the only attempt to bring the novel to the silver screen. One film obviously isn’t enough to cover 1138 pages, so a sequel has been planned. Keep in mind that I have never read this colossus of a novel, so I will be judging “It” as a standalone film.
“It” takes place in the small fictional town of Derry, Maine during the summer of 1989. The meat of the action revolves around a troupe of unpopular youngsters who dub themselves “The Losers’ Club”. This group is comprised of Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Eddie (Jack Grazer), Ben (Jeremy Taylor), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Richie, (Finn Wolfhard), and Beverly (Sophia Lillis), the sole female of the pack. Following the unwitnessed bloody murder of Bill’s younger brother George at the hands of an evil sewer-dwelling clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), he and the rest of the gang begin experiencing some horrifying visions of the clown along with concrete manifestations of their fears. As the youngsters consolidate the pieces, they learn of a centuries old curse on the town.
You’d think that the scariest part of this film would be Pennywise himself along with his creepy incarnations, but in actuality it’s the adults. Think about it, the grownups in our lives, particularly our parents, are supposed to be guiding lights. Instead over here we’re presented with people like Beverly’s father whom the film implies as sexually abusive. We’ve also got Bill’s father who is cold and emotionally distant following George’s disappearance, and Eddie’s controlling sick mother who puts him on a strict regimen of placebo pills. Not only are these grownups harmful to the well-being of their children in their own way, they appear to be out of touch with the world and blind to the significant virtues of life. With that being the case, what would adulthood for those troubled kids entail in such a big scary world that has a sort of malicious penchant for being relentless and walking over people? I ask this because that is the true nature of this earth; such grim futures are very real and aplenty, needless to say more so than creepy shape shifting clowns. So ultimately “It” is really more of a coming-of-age story about facing one’s consternations. Defeating a sadistic homicidal clown that embodies the characters’ deepest fears would give them the fortitude to stand tall and tackle this unforgiving world head on.
The novel itself is quite long on account of its cultivation of the Loser Club’s group dynamic in conjunction with the apprehensions and internal lives of each character. That’s an enormous amount of complex material to cover, and there lies a bulk of this film’s challenge; getting it right in just 2 hours and 15 minutes. “It” for the most part manages to do that quite well. What I appreciated about the screenplay is its comprehension of the loquacious jocularities and trivial idiosyncrasies of childhood bonding. It knows that youngsters need to be youngsters prior to maturation; and this allows these young actors to revel in the snappy banter that actually ends up genuinely resonating on a comical and somewhat emotional level though it may appear juvenile on the surface. From the assorted manner in which these kids approach predicaments to their initial reactions when they befriend Beverly, the characters possess distinctive personalities and their dramas are very relatable. However, the characterization is more satisfying for some characters than others. Richie, Eddie, Ben, Bill, and Beverly are given the most screentime. The generated chemistry and camaraderie is undeniably palpable and the progression of their relationship is smooth. As for Mike and Stanley they are heroic but for the most part they’re downgraded to background status so the actions that they undertake don’t register on the same level as those done by other characters.
Bill Skarsgard had to fill in the ginormous clown shoes of Tim Curry who scared a generation of kids with his performance. I don’t know about you but I believe Skarsgard surpasses Tim Curry as Pennywise, he just vanishes into the role and makes it his own. Skarsgard assumes childlike quirks to extract the perturbations of the young cast and his voice exudes a sort of lilting element that lures children to their doom which is then undermined by his ferocious barbarity. Give him a round of applause, folks, he’s good!
All in all, “It” is a fine example of a remake that actually works. It’s really more about the journey rather than the destination and more about the characters and their camaraderie rather than Pennywise himself. With this film’s genuine humor and visual allusions to late 1980’s entertainment, it allows the viewers to long for the innocence and serenity of childhood. As William Bibbiani of IGN puts it, the film takes us back to that naïve mentality and then rips us apart. He also notes that it works ever so effectively on account of children’s stronger emotions because they’re experiencing them for the first time. “It” isn’t perfect and not exactly the scariest of horror movies, but it is very well executed, brilliantly acted, beautifully shot, funny, and emotionally resonant. If you’re a fan of horror films that put a greater emphasis on the characters, then by all means go to the theater and give this one a watch.
My score: 8/10