IT (USA/16/134 mins)
Directed by Andy Muschietti. Starring Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Chosen Jacobs.
THE PLOT:
Summer, 1989. Derry is not like any other town. Children go missing every 27 years and are presumed dead. Teenager Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is still mourning the loss of his young brother Georgie the previous autumn. Then he starts seeing a spooky Georgie and a malevolent clown known as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). His friends Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Stan (Wyatt Oleff) have had different yet similar experiences with the shape-shifting Pennywise. They’re not the only ones – new kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), bullied kid Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and the troubled Beverly (Sophia Lillis) find common bonds with the others. They will have to confront this evil presence in their town – but only if they’re together and can face their fears…
THE VERDICT: Stephen King’s 1986 book ‘It’ is one of his best, most chilling novels. Spanning multiple characters over decades, it played on childhood fears of clowns and the unknown. A 1990 TV mini-series fronted by Tim Curry’s memorable Pennywise terrified a generation. Now the first half of the story has been adapted for the big screen, after a long and protracted birth that saw ‘It’ change scripts and directors. Is the end result just a re-heated rehash… or the second coming of Pennywise after an appropriate gap of 27 years?
The answer is resoundingly in the latter category. This version of ‘It’ retains the palpable, nerve-shredding fear and tension of King’s novel, while also being visually and narratively inventive enough to distance itself from the mini-series. Think of this ‘It’ as another take on the material, rather than a remake. With 134 minutes to play with, director Andy Muschietti has more time to set up the younger versions of the characters and explore their home lives in more detail. While Bill and Beverly are the key characters, each of the kids gets their moment to shine. The young cast do an excellent job here. Having worked with spooky kids on Mama has paid off for second-time director Muschietti. He coaxes very natural performances from them and their onscreen chemistry and camaraderie is very apparent. The shift in time period from the 1950s to the 1980s works well too, re-telling the story for another generation.
The other crucial element is Pennywise, the most common form of the presence known as ‘It’. Inevitably, Bill (son of Stellan) Skarsgard will be compared to Tim Curry. However, Muschietti and Skarsgard have wisely chosen not to copy Curry (though look closely in one scene and you’ll spot a brief tribute). Instead, they’ve tried a different angle on the character in the same way as Heath Ledger did with The Joker. This Pennywise is less chatty and sinisterly playful. He’s more of an anarchic, malevolent presence. Mix in a a touch of Beetlejuice with incredibly sharp teeth and it’s an unsettling physical performance.
Muschietti uses the big-screen canvas to portray Pennywise’s dank underground world with more visual invention. The sight of dead children floating in the air is a stand-out, as is the infamous bathroom sequence with Beverly (Muschietti takes it to another level). The only disappointing aspect is that we could be in for a long wait for the adult-set second half. In a sign of current Hollywood caution, the second half going into production all depends on the first half’s box office returns. Not a frame of the second half has been shot, but the script is ready to go. Warner Brothers need not worry. This version of ‘It’ is a sure thing. It’s confidently directed, well acted and proper scary. ‘It’ will once again do for clowns what ‘Jaws’ did for swimming. Be afraid, be very afraid…
RATING: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor

  • emerb

    When anybody mentions Stephen King, the 1986 novel “It” is immediately what springs to my mind. This masterful horror clocked up huge sales and worldwide praise and few of his stories have had such an impact. Without a doubt, Pennywise the Clown is one of the most freaky and frightening characters in modern literature and now on the big screen – the scary clown monster of many a childhood nightmare! Even though it was adapted for a 2 part mini-series in 1990 (with Tim Curry as “It”), there was a huge opportunity to bring it to the big screen which is just what director Muschietti has done. Despite the fact that he makes many changes to the source material, he does a superb job of capturing
    the essence of the novel which is not just a horror but a gentle coming of age story (bearing similarities to “The Goonies” or “Stand By Me”). The biggest change made is that instead of being set in 1960, we begin with the first half of the story in the summer of 1989 and we are due to have a sequel set in the present day. In the small town of Derry, Maine, children are disappearing at an alarming rate, and the malevolent murderer seems to be an evil clown who has unleashed a motiveless killing spree and has been preying on the community for decades. It is left to “The Losers Club”, a group of young outcasts who band together, to investigate…..

    Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is helping his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) to construct a paper boat and lets him take it out to play in the rain. When the boat gets caught in a drain, Georgie comes face to face with a nightmarish clown – Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) – who offers to give it back….that is the last we see of little Georgie. Months later, Bill, who copes with
    a stutter and a neighbourhood bully Henry (Nicholas Hamilton), is still tormented with guilt over the loss of his brother and he needs to find answers. Together with his friends (The Losers Club), they are determined to get to the root of the disappearance of both Georgie and other kids in their home town and set out on a journey to uncover the truth. Bullied at school, the boys think of themselves as losers, and they soon add a few other outcasts to their crew including a pretty girl, Beverly (Sophia Lillis) who has been rejected at school due to cruel rumours and a chubby new resident Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) who hides in the library but explains to the others that the clown has been haunting the town for generations,
    resurfacing every 27 years to feed on local children.

    What I liked most about “IT” was how much screen time is devoted to a gradual introduction of the group of misfit young characters (mostly unknown actors), which gives us time to get to know them and to feel empathy with their respective dysfunctional lives. Each one of the Losers club is struggling with something, whether it be a creepy dad, an overprotective mom or getting bullied as the new
    kid in school. They are each separately menaced by the thing they most fear as well as being persecuted by a group of older school bullies.They have wonderful chemistry and are immediately endearing. Casting for the roles was spot on and this is probably the greatest strength of the film. Each of the characters is unique and likeable and the relationships between them are developed nicely. Taylor and Lillis are especially effective with touching, heartfelt performances but all are well-rounded, funny and typically foul-mouthed at times too.

    Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise is every bit as creepy as the original Tim Curry version, he shows up only carefully and sparingly, and that’s a wise choice. It’s a strong performance but if he were to appear more often, it would just diminish his effectiveness. It’s most disturbing when he is lurking in the shadows with his red balloon or contorting his body into convoluted shapes. He’s helped by a superb
    make-up job complete with bright red lips, giant protruding lips, cracked
    porcelain face and painted fake smile, taunting his prey.

    “It” succeeds on many levels and is definitely one of the better Stephen King adaptations. While it is front and foremost a chilling horror which opts for many straightforward jump scare tactics, it is also a gently humorous and sentimental coming of age story and, for me, the human drama element of the film is the more successful aspect. The performances are incredibly strong and while the
    infamous clown is weirdly abhorrent, it’s really the effectiveness of the youngsters who capture the brilliance of Stephen King’s novel.