Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, and Bill Skarsgård
“Everything down here floats…” If you were a fan of Stephen King and watched television in the fall of 1990, there’s a good chance that you didn’t look at clowns the same way ever again. Mr. King’s novel, “It”, was made into a two-part television miniseries starring Tim Curry as the menacing, dancing clown named Pennywise who tormented a group of young people in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. The film is still regarded by many people as one of the most traumatic film experiences, turning jovial clowns into the stuff of nightmares.
After losing writer/director Cary Fukunaga (“True Detective”), the retelling of Stephen King’s story looked bleak. However director Andy Muschietti, who last helmed the horror film “Mama”, stepped in and composed a film that is much more successful than early insights might have suggested. “It” taps into 1980’s nostalgia and mixes it with highlights of Mr. King’s expansive story, utilizing a group of young characters that add substance to the horror that is coming for them.
Derry is a small town with a high historical death count and a current rash of missing children. Some think the town is cursed but for a group of friends the mysterious circumstances in their town has taken a sinister shape, a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) who feeds on the fear of his victims. For Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) the terror has taken a personal turn, his brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is an unfortunate victim. Bill, along with his friends, are tormented by Pennywise, forcing them to either face their fear or succumb to it.
Stephen King’s stories have a unique way of creating a sense of dread for everyone involved; even the stories that are structured within the lives of adolescent people, the characters aren’t exempt from being forced to deal with mature situations. It’s no different here, the children deal with a multitude of concerns; from a homicidal bully at school to despicable adults at home, the world outside of their group of friends is a terrible place. And there are more disturbing situations in the book that aren’t detailed in the film.
Director Andy Muschietti taps into some of those feelings, the emotional rollercoaster of pubescent maturation and the influence of a community that doesn’t seem concerned with the walking nightmares their children express seeing. So it’s surprising that this film has such a strong undercurrent of humor that breaks up the chilling moments from scene to scene. While this disrupts the overall tone in some places during the film, it also helps in creating an interesting wave of emotions between creepy horror sights and what would be an exceptional coming-of-age drama without the genre elements.
It’s the genre elements that cause the most frustration within this film. Unnecessary digital elements in which Pennywise, an already scary monster in makeup alone, is given elongated features or overly shaky motions undercut the rather impressive performance from Bill Skarsgård. When the actor is given an opportunity to provide the character some personality the result is completely chilling. In one scene involving a spooky, decrepit house Pennywise is given the stage to taunt and torment in exceptional fashion.
Within the Loser’s Club, that’s what these teenagers call their band of outsiders, is a young person that you can identify with. The foul-mouthed jokester Richie (Finn Wolfhard) has a smart quip for every situation, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) has asthma and allergies, and Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is the lone lady with enough confidence to match all the boys in the group. Leading the charge is Bill, a kid with a stutter that also feels like the friend we all hoped to have in school. These characters are nothing without the talented performers behind them; their character’s personalities seem so genuine and heartfelt throughout the film. Ms. Lillis is a particular standout amongst the group, her character is strong-willed and provides the courage that promotes the boys to act.
At over two-hours in length, “It” never seems to lose much steam. This is partly because the character story is so well composed, which keeps the attention off the horror film that never fully commits to creating something that is very scary or unnerving. Still, “It” is much better than I was expecting and, not surprising for those that have seen the original television film or read the book, we will have an opportunity to float again.
3.50 out of 5.00