Film Review: IT
Before I go into this review, lets address some key misnomers that were so frequently thrown around while this film was in development and seem to still have some traction left. This film is at it’s very base, an adaptation of Stephen Kings 1986 novel IT. This is NOT a remake of the 1990 television miniseries of the same name. Yes, both are adapted from the same novel, but they take two very different approaches to the source material and each stand alone as their own story to show and tell.
To the pearl clutchers that were aghast at the idea of someone trying to fill the massive clown shoes of Tim Curry…you can release your stranglehold. Tim Curry is, and will always be a great Pennywise. The 1990 miniseries will always be a monumental milestone in horror and Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise, iconic. So how fantastically fortunate are we to now have this film adaptation of the book, completely separate of the miniseries, that will also stand as its own pillar in horror along with Bill Skargards iconic take on Stephen Kings demonic manifestations of your fears named “Pennywise The Dancing Clown”? It’s such a rare occurrence to have not one, but two amazing adaptations to enjoy. That is really something to be celebrated, not discredited.
Now, it’s been a while since I saw the miniseries or for that matter read the book. I watched most of the miniseries around this time last year when I was invited to visit the set for this film. In re-watching the miniseries, I found the see-sawing between “The Loser’s Club” as kids and then as adults distracting and disruptive to the pacing and the building of tension. IT (2017) director Andy Muschietti must have felt the same as this film is solely focused on the experience of the group as children. Subsequently, this means there will be a second film that covers their lives as adults. This works well because it gives the audience a better opportunity to get to know the kids and their backstories. That is such a key element to the story as it’s what makes them “losers” in the first place, and it deserves the time and attention to gestate.
Finding the right actors to play each and every one of these characters is the key element to the success of this film. The team behind IT clearly knew that almost everything was riding on that. If the cast is weak, the film falls flat on its face. The chemistry between the kids of “The Losers Club” is so magnetic and so natural you forget that they are acting. That’s because they are, and they aren’t. When I interviewed these kids on set it was clear that they had formed strong friendships that have since traveled beyond the set. Like life imitating art except that the bullies are also included in this off-set friendship. Every cast member put on an incredible performance and showed depth of character and acting abilities way beyond their years. Its a challenging task as the material they are working with is quite layered and advanced.
Its also quite heady stuff for some, especially for Sophia Lillis who plays Beverly. Beverly is a “loser” at school because she has been unfairly labelled a slut due to a story going around that she had sex with a handful of boys. School is hell for Bev, but home is no better as she lives alone with her father who is sexually abusing her. Sophia Lillis plays Bev absolutely flawlessly. Bev has fearless strength and intuitive fight in her blood, yet also emotes such pain and vulnerability. Its so believable that it was really heartbreaking to endure along with her. I think one of the best scenes in the film belongs to Sophia and that is the infamous bathroom scene where her sink becomes a geyser of blood. This film is not as blood soaked as many would easily assume, but holy shit was this scene blood soaked. Every inch of frame was drowning in blood, Bev especially. It could have easily become comical but it was so stunning and was shot with such a careful hand that for me it transformed the scene into its own piece of art within the film itself.
One thing you may not expect going into this film is how incredibly funny it is. The kids have great comedic timing and the jokes feel genuine in content given the fact that this is group comprised of mostly teenage boys. Its so vital to have that comedic relief to give the audience some time to relax and recharge from the intense nature of the rest of the two hour and fifteen minute film.
One major contributor to the laughs is Jack Dylan Grazer who plays the double fanny pack wearing, quick talking, asthmatic mamas boy Eddie Kaspbrak. At the beginning, the character felt a bit one dimensional and pigeon holed. He was a vehicle who’s purpose was to be the butt of the vulgar jokes from his pal Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) and as the character to put up resistance when his friends want to press his comfort zone. After meeting Jack on set it seemed unfortunate to not give him some room to have his character show more dynamic range. Just as that thought crossed my mind, Eddie came face-to-face with Pennywise and it was one of the most anxiety inducing moments of the film. Pennywise does not like these children, particularly Eddie it seems, and Pennywise lets this be known. Jack is a young boy who has acting chops that surprised even me and I saw him in action on set. I think its one thing to see him in the group but when he had his one-on-one with Pennywise, Jack (Eddie) really uses his body to emote and convey so much more bone-rattling fear than his motor mouth ever did. He really uses every physical element at his disposal as well as the psychological aspects of putting that fear into the audience. Its hard to believe how young he given the seasoned nature of his performance and his abilities to transition from comedy to terror so seamlessly.
Now lets talk about Pennywise. I applaud the efforts of Warner Brothers and appreciate the choice to make viewers really work for the big reveal by not allowing the trailer to do all the talking for the film. That being said, from my personal experience the reveal wasn’t as shocking as I had seen Skarsgard as Pennywise on set. I was SO awe-stuck and chilled by what I saw on set I wish they had not cut so much of what I had seen him do. They cut some great stuff! I can only hope it makes it to the special features on the Blu-ray whenever that comes out. I love Skarsgards Pennywise. His performance is frenetic and wildly unpredictable. If there was anything I would change about the film, I would have been more light-handed with the CGI. The demented facial expressions that Skarsgard crafted were so chilling that masking them with CG effects undermines how effective they are and is kind of a waste.
At the end of the day, IT is about how the bonds we build can overpower our greatest fears and empower even the most downtrodden. A message like that is one I think we need now more than ever.