Directed by Mama helmer Andy Muschietti, It is a new take on Stephen King’s well-known 1986 novel. Bill Skarsgård (Atomic Blonde, Hemlock Grove) plays the titular demonic being, who often appears as a clown named Pennywise. Jaeden Lieberher, known for his roles in St. Vincent and Midnight Special, leads the strong cast of children.
Perhaps the film’s origins require little more in the way of background information, since the 1990 TV mini-series and Tim Curry’s portrayal in it have provided thrills and chills to children and adults the world over for years.
This faithful adaptation, set in the fictional township of Derry in the late 80s and focusing on a group of young misfits known as the Losers’ Club, is essentially a coming-of-age tale. The casting of these “Losers” is absolutely spot on, with each talented cast member nailing their well-written roles. Each young actor delivers, providing the viewer with a genuine and heightened sense of empathy and emotional attachment as their individual paths of woe and despair unfold.
Having a talented ensemble cast playing this group with such a unique and progressively downtrodden dynamic is utterly essential to the narrative’s success, and the screenplay – by Chase Palmer, Gary Dauberman and Cary Fukunaga – wisely uses empathy as a weapon on the viewer, slamming audiences when it counts by connecting it directly to the fear factor. The sweetness and stoicism of these kids is challenged at every turn, with very real and serious horrors plaguing each of their lives prior to their encounters with Pennywise. Crucially, they are stronger when bound together.
Pennywise is convincingly crafted as a force to be reckoned with. He is a truly chilling and odd concoction, and Skarsgård must be praised for mashing a type of unsettling, sickly sweetness with an underlying and foreboding darkness. He gives this monster an off-kilter, extra-creepy vibe and aura with every second of screen time. Skarsgård’s embodiment of the character, right down to every sharp, strange physical movement, is another vital cog in this whirling, churning machine. From his first appearance, Pennywise is truly unforgettable. The second you see those beady yellow eyes pierce through the darkness, know you are in for one hell of a ride.
Perhaps as the greatest testament to any horror film, many members of the audience at this writer’s (packed) screening screamed and shrieked throughout the film – and yes, I shall confirm I was among these tortured souls, such are the effective and unrelenting horror methods put in place by It’s production team.
Which leads me onto my next point of analysis: the wit. Whilst It contains plenty of chills and scares – some members of my audience would say it had more than enough – it balances the frights meticulously with good doses of quality humour. This ebb and flow mechanic smoothly throttles the viewer between feelings of horror and levity, resulting in more intense frights and heartier laughs. It’s very cleverly done.
There are, however, a few elements of the film that have a negative impact on its overall execution. Firstly, with a run time of 2 hours and 15 minutes, It is perhaps about 20 minutes too long. Relatedly, the ending, or even the final third of the film, loses some of the taut craftsmanship established prior. The finale, unfortunately, meanders somewhat and feels a little aimless, eating into the fear and mystique surrounding Pennywise and diluting some of his impact. It doesn’t limp home, by any means, but it doesn’t stride home winningly either.
It gives its audience plenty of frights and a surprising amount of laughs, weaving the two into a well-told, well-acted coming-of-age/loss-of-innocence tale that hit all of its marks early on, and keeps hitting most of them throughout.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10