‘It’ Review: A Truly Terrifying Update of a Stephen King Classic

Take a look at our review for ‘It’ in theaters now…

By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer

Stephen King hasn’t always had the best luck with filmmakers attempting to adapt his scariest novels into terrifying horror films.

There are a few exceptions to the rule even if that means drastically changing from the source material.

‘The Shining’ will always be considered an all-time horror classic. ‘Misery’ was on everybody’s short list during awards season the year it was released. And who can forget the bloody face of ‘Carrie’ taking revenge on her high school prom.

A few years back an ambitious group of filmmakers decided to take a stab at a big screen adaptation for one of King’s most famous novels — ‘It’ — which had previously been transformed into a television miniseries back in 1990. As the script came together and production was about to get underway, there was a split in ideology about how the movie should look and feel and original director Cary Fukunaga — who had already plotted out an original film and a sequel — was off the project.

That kind of break-up typically means that the director’s vision for the movie clashed with the studio’s idea for the film and the result is often times a muddled mess. Thankfully in recent years we’ve learned not to judge so quickly — Marvel has jettisoned numerous directors over the years only to see the finished product score hundreds of millions at the box office not to mention loads of critical praise.

While Fukunaga remains a fine filmmaker and a co-writer on the script for the final adaptation of the novel, director Andy Muschietti ultimately delivered a truly terrifying version of ‘It’ that not only pays homage to the source material but gives King’s work a makeover that will remind plenty of theater goers of the same kind of nostalgic feeling they got when watching ‘Stranger Things’ on Netflix last year.

‘It’ is not only filled with fright but there’s plenty of heart and humor dished out in this two-hour horror film that also manages to be a great coming of age story as well.

With that said, let’s get into our review of ‘It’…

Plot

It’s 1988 in the small town of Derry, Maine where a little boy named Georgie wants to go outside to play in the rain and thanks to his older brother Bill building him a paper boat, he’s got something to chase as the water rushes down the street.

Unfortunately, Georgie loses his boat down a sewer drain and when he goes to chase after it he runs into a devilish looking clown hiding out inside. That’s when Georgie encounters Pennywise the clown for the first…and last time. Sadly, Georgie never gets his boat back because the little boy soon finds out that this dancing clown is actually the ultimate form of evil complete with jaws filled with razor sharp teeth that snatch him down into the drain, never to be seen again.

Fast-forward to a year later and Bill is still haunted by the disappearance of his brother Georgie while his hometown of Derry is suddenly dealing with a rash of missing children. While Bill has spent the last year frantically searching for any clues as to what happened to his kid brother, he’s found a support system from his best friends who are later dubbed ‘The Loser’s Club’.

Included in that group are town newcomer Ben Hanscomb, who has been tortured all year long by a pack of bullies led by mullet-headed Henry Bowers, as well as Beverly Marsh, a tough girl from the wrong side of the tracks constantly tormented at both home and at school. Along with Mike Hanlon, a home-schooled kid who also runs afoul of Henry Bowers, the group comes together as friends but soon finds out they’ve also got one more thing in common.

Over the course of this past year, each one of them has encountered their worst fears and the culmination of those interactions has ended with the revelation of a creepy clown named Pennywise. When the Loser’s Club begins to realize that Pennywise is more than just a figment of their imagination, they are determined to stop It from killing any more kids in Derry.

Acting

Despite ‘It’ being released in 2017 as an ‘R’ rated horror film, there were always going to be comparisons to the 1990 television miniseries that starred Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown. So needless to say Bill Skarsgard was going to have plenty of people critiquing his performance as the killer clown while also constantly connecting him back to Curry whether he liked it or not.

Well here’s the good news — Skarsgard not only pulls off a truly creepy and convincing performance as Pennywise but he truly makes the character his own. Skarsgard has the voice and facial expressions down that transform his version of Pennywise into a truly haunting character that will be seen in nightmares for years to come.

Of course the majority of the cast is made up of teenage actors and actresses and they all do a phenomenal job in this film.

Finn Wolfhard, who will probably be the most familiar face given his high profile role on ‘Stranger Things’, plays wise-cracking funny man Richie Tozier and his off-colored one liners are well timed and inject plenty of humor into an otherwise terrifying film. Jaeden Lieberher does a great job as Bill Denbrough, the leader of the Loser’s Club who has been tormented for the past year that he was somehow responsible for his brother’s death.

Perhaps the breakout start of the bunch will be Sophia Lillis, who plays Beverly Marsh, and the only girl in the Loser’s Club. She plays daring as well as she plays vulnerable with much of her story revolving around a girl coming of age with no one around to show her the ropes how to become a woman so she just makes up her own rules as she goes along. In many ways, Beverly becomes the glue that holds the Loser’s Club together and Lillis plays it all with grit and grace.

Directing and Writing

Andy Muschietti isn’t a stranger to horror films after directly the 2013 movie ‘Mama’ but he truly stretches his muscles with the work on ‘It’. Muschietti packs in plenty of heart pounding horror that will have you spilling popcorn all over your lap while simultaneously covering your eyes from the looming dread that hangs overhead through a big part of this movie.

The script is smart and snappy with plenty of visceral scares while also adding in a ton of heart thanks to the dialogue and story provided to the kids making up the Loser’s Club.

The story isn’t tough to follow by any means because it boils down to the simplest of concepts — good versus evil — and that’s a plot everybody can understand. Perhaps the best part about ‘It’ is the way the script delivers all the scares you can handle without sacrificing any of the story. The two go hand in hand from the very first shot of Pennywise hanging out in that sewer drain all the way through the credits.

What’s Wrong with the Movie?

Beverly Marsh is one of the strongest and most well written characters in the film, which is a credit to the screenwriters, but at some point during the movie they fall back into the old faithful story where she’s the damsel in distress and the boys have to come save her.

Now it’s not to say that a girl can’t be rescued in a movie because we live in 2017 but when you see how Beverly is portrayed throughout the film, you get the sense that she would be the one rescuing Bill or the other members of the Loser’s Club rather than needing help herself.

It’s a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent horror film but still one that has to be addressed. Strangely enough, horror movies have managed to create some of the strongest heroines on film — from Nancy in ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ to Laurie Strode in ‘Halloween’ — and it seemed like Beverly should have been that for ‘It’ but somewhere along the way the writers veered off course ever so slightly.

Final Verdict

The best part about ‘It’ is that it crosses genres and can’t just be classified as a horror film. Sure, the movie is plenty scary — especially if you’re afraid of clowns — but there’s a ton more to this film than just making you jump out of your seat and then struggle to sleep later that night.

‘It’ is haunting and yet filled with heart and that’s a rare quality indeed.

‘It’ gets four out of five on the Skolnick Scale

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