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Review: IT – “An unrelenting, unforgivable and unmissable treat”

As a huge Stephen King fan (with It being my favourite book of all time), my anticipation for It (2017) was immense.  Everything seemed to be pointing in the right direction; relatively unknown cast, completely different take on Pennywise, a higher certificate rating and enough original plot points to differentiate itself from the book and the TV mini-series.

Originally penned by True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga, who was originally attached to direct, the script wisely makes the difficult decisions anyone has to make when adapting such a colossal book for the big screen.  The movie focuses on just the characters when they are kids, hoping to shift to their adult versions in the sequel.  It shifts the timeline to the late 80s, condenses some plot points and omits others to make its 135-minute runtime as effective as possible.  That’s a considerable run time for a horror movie so how does it feel?  Well, frankly, It is an unrelenting, unforgivable and unmissable treat.

For a different take, check out Adam’s review.

In 1988 seven-year-old Georgie Denbrough is brutally murdered by a clown living in the sewers, signalling the awakening of Pennywise who wakes every 27 years to feed and cause havoc in the small town of Derry, Maine.  Georgie’s older brother Bill, and his friends who make up the Losers Club, put the pieces together and try and confront Pennywise to defeat him for good.

Director Andy Muschietti has managed to bring together many elements to craft a very surprising movie.  The way he manages to freak the audience out really is an art.  Mixing unique imagery with superb camera movements Muschietti manages to give a never-ending creep factor which only goes to makes the actual scares even more effective.  One scene, in particular, stands out as the new kid on the block Ben does some research in the library.  As he uncovers some of the towns tragic past keep your eye in the background.  The director never brings attention to it but it gets the audience on edge enough for the scares to come.

The town of Derry is a town in denial of the evil that exists, every adult character that we see is disgusting or loathsome, making the kids feel even more alone as they struggle with their own fears.  And what a cast of kids!  Again, the right step was made in casting relatively unknowns and they are all great as required for each role.  Richie is far funnier than I could have hoped, Eddie gives the best-frightened in child actor for years, Ben is cute and loveable and far better than I thought coming into this.  The star of the child actors though is Beverly, played by Sophia Lillis.  She brings a maturity to the cast and, indeed, the Losers Club as well, and is wonderful.  It’s easy to see why the other characters would all fall in love with her.  She walks the fine line between being afraid of her father and the town bullies to being confident in front of her new friends. But, all in all, the chemistry that this young cast have and the way they interact seems so real and sincere it puts it on par with The Goonies, Stand By Me and Stranger Things, which all share very similar elements.

So how is Pennywise portrayed here?  Well, Bill Skarsgård literally had some big shoes to fill but he has taken a fresh approach to the part and has been aided by the make-up and costume teams to bring something completely different.  Bill’s Pennywise is a menacingly, insidious force who still likes to toy around with his prey and taunt them. Yet there seems to be something more going on psychologically than Tim Curry’s version.  There’s an unsettling quality to this modern day incarnation. Added to this is the way he is shot and lit which makes it different enough to allow people to decide for themselves which version they prefer.  I, personally, love them both and wouldn’t be able to choose between the two as both of them perfectly achieve what they are going for.

It is a fun movie that combines the warmth of Stand By Me with the horror of films like The Conjuring and Insidious.  It is the warmth, though, that sets it aside, much like the novel did.  It is a coming of age story and a story about friendship first and foremost.  These children are outsiders and have their own fears to deal with as well as their own parents and fellow school pupils.  They are battling all of the grown-ups in Derry.  We care about these kids, they aren’t caricatures, they are faithful to the book and one of King’s strengths is that he knows how to write kids.  They feel authentic which helps elevate this movie above just a simple ghost story.

The movie may or may not be scary to you, it has plenty of jump scares and some wonderfully inventive imagery but I cannot say that it is scarier than something that James Wan may come out with.  It’s always been my opinion that in the novel, and so in any adaptation, the scares and horror should play a secondary role to the story.  But even if the scares may not be as prevalent, the underlying tone of terror, the subtle waves of spookiness that gets under your skin last throughout the movie and the frights and jumps don’t let up.  In fact, by the final confrontation there have been so many scares, jumps and shocks that the audience may feel a little exhausted and overwhelmed by it all.

There are several flaws to the movie; the main Bully, Henry Bowers, is a rather one-dimensional and stereotypical and wasn’t given the chance to be fleshed out enough.  The final confrontation is the weakest part of the movie. Although still enjoyable, overall it isn’t as scary as you would hope.

However, go into this film with the right mindset and you will have a ton of fun, the Losers Club will make you laugh, Pennywise will make you cringe and you may end up getting a fright or two.  Lovers of the novel should acknowledge this will be faithful in parts but necessarily different, lovers of the TV mini-series should go in expecting a fresh take on King’s story.

So, come to Derry, Maine.  We all float.  And when you’re down here, you’ll float too!

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