IT Review: 9 out of 10 (Stand By Me...and be Afraid)
IT is the latest Stephen King film adaptation and is directed by Andy Muschietti and written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman. Jaeden Lieberher stars as Bill Denbrough, an emerging teen in Derry, Maine whose little brother mysterioulsy disappears. Bill Skarsgård is Pennywise the Dancing Clown, terrorizing the small town that includes Bill and his friends. The film has a strong supporting cast that includes Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton and Jackson Robert Scott. For many of these young actors it is their first big screen role...not that you would know it as this is easily one of the best ensemble castings (of any age) of the last several years in filmmaking. And it is this group of young actors that makes IT so charming while equally nightmarish.
Oft repeated in my reviews is the idea that any adaptation must stand on its own from its source material, and in this case, the previous TV mini-series. Both are different mediums presented in different times to different audiences to consume in different ways. One cannot expect the level of character development that an 1100+ page novel offers. Nor is a big screen film adaptation tied to editing for commercials, separate night viewings, content limitation for ratings, etc. But novel and mini-series aside, this is a fantastic horror film and easily one of the best Stephen King film adaptations brought to screen. Updated from the book into the late 1980s, the film only deals with the first half of the King tome, with a second film coming in 2019. And with the focus on the young teens of Derry, this film becomes more than a horror film; IT is a coming-of-age story. Bill and his friends belong to the "Loser Club" --a motley group of outsiders who have found each other due to the rejection of from their peers. From the fat kid, the sickly whiner, class clown, the slutty girl, etc... whether it is body image issues, school rumors, race, religion, or speech impediments--these kids are outcasts. Over one summer together, these friends are forced to face their own fears, uncover the evil in their town, and along the way lose their own childhood innocence. Sounds like a great summer vacation. After Bill's kid brother Georgie goes missing, Bill and his friends discover that there is a pattern to missing kids in their town of Derry. Georgie isn't the only one that has disappeared. There is a deep evil under the surface of their town and it has been there a long time. Together, these losers decide they are the only ones who can combat this malevolence.
Bill Skarsgård is downright horrifying as Pennywise the Clown. The film creatively comes up with new ways to play on the clown theme and use this image to terrify these kids, and respectively, the audience. But if there is one thing that is more frightening than a murderous clown it is all the grownups in Derry, Maine. Not a single adult has a redeeming quality. Some are berating, others are lecherous. All of them seem to have been infected, however, with the town's evil. This fits with the film's adolescent themes as these tweeners find themselves facing the world completely alone. And the film's scariest moments come when these young people are, in fact, left alone. The film balances between nightmarish hallucinations and suspenseful setpieces--all populated with relatable and loveable characters that are immediately relatable. Beyond the scary clown makeup, IT is a movie that finds a heart. That is, of course, when you aren't clutching it in terror.