Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Years ago, I was introduced to Stephen King by co-workers and I was taken with his storytelling capabilities and his ability to terrorize the characters in his novels. King has a pretty wild imagination when it comes to that sort of thing (shudder). When I first read the novel, It, I was so engrossed, I couldn’t put the book down. I remember reading a scene in which one of the characters, Mike, was chased by a ginormous bird. At the very moment I read that segment, a sparrow slammed into my bedroom window. Stuck on the screen, the bird batted its wings against it repeatedly, scaring the daylights out of me.
Years later, I was reading It again. Same scene, this time I find myself sitting at a bus stop in a town very much like the book’s locale of Derry. It had grown very quiet and I looked up from the book to find blackbirds and crows strewn across every wire in sight. Pretty darn spooky, if you ask me. But, when they finally came out with a miniseries based on the novel in 1990, it fell short. First of all, there wasn’t a lot of horror you could really do on national television at the time. Second, the powers that be ignored some key moments in the book that were extremely important to the storyline. Finally, the special effects capabilities at the time were nowhere near what can be achieved now, so the final confrontation with the monster wasn’t in the least bit scary. It was actually disappointing.
When they said there would be a remake of It coming to theaters, I had my doubts. There aren’t many movie adaptations of Stephen King novels that actually do them justice – maybe a handful at best. But then I saw the trailers and I was like, “WHOA! That looks exactly as I imagined it!” This wasn’t Tim Curry’s Pennywise the Clown, but it was just as scary and the kids are exactly as I pictured them to be when I first read the novel. I couldn’t wait to see It when the film finally came to theaters.
It begins on a rainy day in Derry, Maine in 1988. Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) is sidelined with a nasty cold, but that doesn’t stop him from helping his younger brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), make a sailboat to play with. When Georgie brings the boat out into the rain, it takes off, hurtling down the streets into a sewer, where Georgie meets Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard) and disappears. Over the course of the school year, many children have disappeared, prompting a strict curfew in the town. Bill’s parents have become resigned to the idea that Georgie is dead and never coming back, but Bill is determined to find his brother, even if it is only his corpse.
Over the summer, he enlists the aid of his friends, members of The Losers Club. Initially, they include Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff), a young boy studying for his bar mitzvah whose lack of interest in religion has his rabbi father concerned; Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), a smart mouthed kid whose foul language and verbal outbursts often get him into trouble; and Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), a hypochondriac who has been convinced by his overprotective mother that he is very ill. They are later joined by Ben Hascom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), a new kid with weight issues and a somewhat unhealthy obsession for the dark history of the town he now calls home; Bev Marsh (Sophia Lillis), one of the less monetarily fortunate of the group who is hounded by rumors of promiscuity at school and an abusive father at home; and Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), an African American orphan living with his grandfather whose upbringing and skin color is a perfect target for the local bullies.
The members of The Losers Club all share two things in common. The first is the constant hounding and often violent encounters with the Bowers Gang, a group of high school thugs led by the sheriff’s son Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). The second is the fact that they have all been touched in some way by Pennywise the Clown. According to Ben’s research, the town of Derry appears to be cursed, with disaster striking every 27 years or so. Multiple people are either murdered, die in horrible accidents or explosions, or simply disappear, with the majority of these individuals being children. As the members of The Losers Club discuss their various hellish experiences of late, each on realizes that they all have something in common – a gruesome clown.
Bill realizes that this clown must have had something to do with his brother’s disappearance and the disappearance of a number of Derry’s child population of late. He is determined to hunt this creature down and exact vengeance for his lost brother. At first, the rest of The Losers Club are ready for the adventure, but after their first encounter with It, they aren’t so sure they ever want to run into the monster in clown clothing again, much less battle it. Can Bill convince the others to join him in his quest to defeat this monstrous being before It can strike again? Will Bill ever find his lost brother? You’ll just have to see the movie to find out.
And see the movie you should! Whether you are a fan of Stephen King or just love horror flicks, It is the movie for you. Fans of the book will find some variations in events between the movie and book, but, despite the fact that my dreaded bird sequence never made it into the film, the changes that the powers that be made to the content were genius. For instance, having the movie set in the late 1980s, rather than the ‘50s, made the time frame easier for the younger audience to accept. Many of the folks I went to see the movie with were of the Millennial generation and would find it difficult to relate to the 1950s town setting and attitude. Setting the film in a later decade allows the younger viewers to recognize the music, games, movies, etc. available to kids at the time and they can then immerse themselves in the story better.
As for the action in the film itself – oh man, they really got the creepy parts right. Skarsgard plays Pennywise perfectly and the special effects department did a great job on the various sizes, shapes and contortions of this monster clown. This was an area that the television miniseries failed miserably in and it aids in making the clown/monster that much scarier. The hauntings, for lack of a better word, of the children in this film seem more real…and downright scarier. The final battle, something I found lacking in the miniseries, exceeded my expectations.
I also enjoyed the acting. As I’ve already said, Skarsgard did an excellent job as Pennywise, but we can’t rule out the work of the kids. Jeremy Ray Taylor was brilliant as the lovesick library nerd, pining after Beverly while obsessing about the dark secrets of Derry. Jaeden Lieberher is exactly what I expected Bill to look like – he has the look and actions of Bill down perfectly, even down to the stutter. Sophie Lillis does an amazing job as Bev. I loved her mix of tomboy in a developing teenage girl, fighting demons at home as well as in school. The bloody bathroom scene – she handled that horror perfectly. But my favorite performance, by far, was Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozier. I had enjoyed Finn’s acting as Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things, but his performance as Richie Tozier is completely opposite. This is a smart mouth kid who uses his quips and one-liners to cover up for insecurities and a need for attention. This is exactly the kid I imagined when I read It all those years ago.
Fans of the book may take issue with some changes or scenes that have been left out, but they have to be excited that the powers that be decided to make It two movies instead of one. That way, the proper attention could be given to the kids’ stories and the next movie would be all about the adult It experience. No neglect or rushing things here to make sure it fits the time frame. You get your full It experience in two films. I certainly appreciate that fact. Folks who have never read the book will appreciate the horror the kids experience in the film, perhaps reliving their fear of clowns or other things that went bump in the night when they were kids.
It is one of those remakes that you can actually appreciate and recommend to others. This is a Stephen King novel that could only have seen a proper movie adaptation in this day and age of advanced special effects. I would definitely recommend this to any fan of horror, whether they are a fan of Stephen King’s works or not! It’s just that good a film!