You’ll float remix
Stephen King is one of our most famous, prolific and absurdist writers living today. While his prose and characterizations have always been the envy of many an author, his plots tend to…well not end very well or go into batshit crazy directions. Similarly, films based on his work range from excellent (The Shining, The Shashank Redemption, and Stand by Me among others) to laughably bizarre (Children of the Corn and Maximum Overdrive) to absolute wastes of time (Tommyknockers, Dreamcatcher, and recently The Dark Tower). But among his various adaptations, the television miniseries of It from 1990 stands as a classic both to parents and kids at the time, bringing back widespread fear of clowns and paranoia for child abductions. Too bad it hasn’t aged very well…yes I know you are heartbroken to know that I’m not particularly fond of the series, partially because it’s silly as hell. But hey, here we are 27 years later (heh) with a new adaptation. How does it fare?
We find ourselves in Derry, Maine where a strange shapeshifting creature that usually prefers the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) begins eating residents of the town, particularly small children. One of these children just so happens to be Bill’s (Jaeden Lieberher) little brother Georgie, and Bill soon finds his friends and himself as the next targets for It. Among these friends is loudmouth Richie (Finn Wolfhard late of Stranger Things), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), new kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Jewish boy Stan (Wyatt Olef), orphan Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and the abused girl Beverly (Sophia Lillis). The creature usually takes on the form of whatever scares the kids most and none of them can seek help from the adults who seem perplexingly unaware that something deeply troubling is happening within town. With no one to turn to but themselves, the kids known only as the Losers Club band together to kill It before the creature can get to any of them.
First of all, I really liked the exchanges between these kids, particularly from the characters of Bill, Beverly and Richie. The Losers Club members all have great chemistry with each other as they joke, tease and diss one another in between running for their lives from Pennywise or their local bully, Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), who is more typical of the psychotic murderer bully that frequents Stephen King’s writings. With the Losers Club at least, there was a strong degree of likability that made me want to root for the kids to survive their ordeal while everyone around them is gruesomely torn apart by It.
Incidentally, major props are owed to Bill Skarsgård for delivering a new type of Pennywise that genuinely feels like a new interpretation of the character as opposed to a rehash. Now I wouldn’t call his performance better than Tim Curry’s legendary performance as the killer clown, but it feels fresh to give you a take you never knew you wanted. Skarsgård talks like a creature attempting to speak English, not quite knowing how to properly enunciate certain words while moving around in an uncanny manner. Further Skarsgård does have the benefit of modern computer effects to enhance the creep factor double time. His eyes occasionally become lazy or take a life of their own; and when he bears his monster teeth, it’s not campy like in the original but something truly out of a kid’s nightmare. You get to know just what kind of ride you’re in for within the first five minutes when you witness Pennywise’s first kill. Which reminds me, much like yesterday’s mother! I really don’t recommend new parents to check this movie out for the sake of keeping your sanity in check everytime your kids go outside to play.
As far as the horror goes in this horror movie, it’s mostly composed of spookhouse scares, which can make or break this kind of movie for you. If you’re not a fan of jump scares or prefer more existential or psychological terror, this may not be the movie you’re looking for. However, as a jump scare-a-thon, I think the movie more than satisfies the craving for a good ol’ fashioned horror movie to surprise you. I was into the scares not because they were particularly well done or unique (they’re not), but because I genuinely liked our protagonists. Once again, strong character development swoops in to save the day.
Of particular note is Jaeden Lieberher’s Billy, who becomes the de facto leader of the Losers Club over the course of the story. This kid had a ton of pressure as he has significantly more lines than anyone else and has a character with a direct personal connection to the monster. Thankfully Lieberher rose to the occasion, with a relatable charisma that made me keep wanting to see more of him, and I do hope this kid moves on to even better projects.
Another solid addition to the cast is Sophia Lillis’ Beverly. This one was another tough role as her character has to deal with a sexually abusive father alongside the killer clown. The scenes between her and the father are gut-wrenching to watch, and one altercation towards the end was more tense than most of the monster fare. Lillis is yet another child actress I hope to see more of in the future as I have a strong feeling she can carry very difficult scenes like hers.
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom as Wolfhard from Stranger Things takes on Seth Green’s former role and makes it his own. A kid as foul mouthed as any character on South Park, he was constantly getting me to laugh with his over the top antics. Though I admit I did wish the film would limit the light hearted fare to him, as other jokey moments either fall flat or simply didn’t fit into the proceedings. A rock fight that happens midway through the film stood out to me in particular with some really weird editing while blasting metal music in the background. Took me out of the movie if I’m being honest, and sadly it wasn’t the only time that it happened.
Additionally, the other members of the Losers Club really didn’t click for me. Many of them were severely underwritten and big moments that played towards the climax didn’t have the narrative payoff they should have. Which is a shame, because the rest of the cast was doing their best with everything they were given, but it looks like the film just didn’t have time for all of them…even as the film stands at 2 hours and 15 minutes.
It honestly wanted me to have more time with these kids and want something more like Stranger Things in terms of development time. Which is funny because Stranger Things wouldn’t exist without stuff like the 1990 version of It. Still, the script from Cary Fukunaga (director of Beasts of No Nation) had so much quality bursting from must have been a pain to adapt from half of Stephen King’s monster-sized tome, that I’m still able to forgive quite a few flaws for an enthusiastic recommendation.
It’s got a few tonal problems here and there, but if you’re a fan of jump scares, have I got the movie for you. This is a low…