Summary: A group of small town misfits defeats a shapeshifting demon clown with the power of friendship. Also, a surprising amount of New Kids on the Block references. Go figure.
Side note: I was attempting to finish the book before the film to give an in depth comparison, but as you may know the book is super long so. . . .Be that as it may, I have seen the tv miniseries so at least we can compare the two. On with the review!
Let me spin you a tale, dear reader. When I was a little kid, I would be sent to a babysitter’s house while my parents were at work. I did the by the books little kid stuff: color with crayons, sculpt with Play-Doh, watch Barney. Life was pretty simple then. That is until one day, the babysitter’s son brought over a VHS. The tape’s label read IT, in a cryptic red font. The video began to play and I wanted to be brave. Face my first horror film and come out a man! I only made it 10 minutes in. From then on, I feared going over to that sitter’s house, storm drains, and (of course) clowns. Specifically, the clown from It.
It took several years to finally be able to face It again. To my surprise, It the TV movie is dumb. Really dumb. Cheesy. Low budget. Badly acted. Even kind of funny. The only thing remarkable was a knockout performance by Tim Curry. There was nothing to be afraid of anymore!
That is until some jerks decided to remake it. . . Or should I say It?
First of all, this movie is f***ing terrifying. From the beginning of the film, it establishes that the filmmakers are willing to commit horrible graphic violence on little kids. It doesn’t just fade to black or pull away from the action before you can see a victim’s fate. You have to stare in shock as a little boy gets mauled by a demonic clown or a little girl is strung up with her entrails hanging out. In general, I have a hard time seeing children in peril, so this film really tested me emotionally. This movie makes the TV movie look like a fun romp for the whole family!
Be that as it may, this is one of the best horror films I have ever seen.
The film just exudes an uncomfortable but nostalgic atmosphere. The non-horror scenes feel like an 80s Spielberg film, Stand by Me and a dash of Monster Squad. It’s got all the trademarks of kids swearing like sailors, 80’s music, kids smoking, and riding bikes through town. These scenes are incredibly charming in their own right. However, under this familiar aesthetic is an unnerving sense of oddity. The film feels submerged in the anxieties of childhood. The bullies are a gang of violent sociopaths, the adults are oddly shaped and creepy in their own right, and Beverly’s house is especially unpleasant to be in. The film’s tone is strengthened by the well shot cinematography and a chilling score by Benjamin Wallfisch. The film takes advantage of its setting thematically and makes the town of Derry a character unto itself.
Horror is only effective if you actually have a connection with the characters, and this film excels at this. The main cast each give extraordinary performances and are incredibly well-written. I would argue some of the best kids in all of film! The conversations and constant jabs at each other feel genuinely like how teenage boys (and one girl) act with each other. You either knew one of these kids or were one of these kids in real life. I can tell you from experience, many a preteen boy has at one point or another insinuated that he has had sex with your mother. Not only can these kids bring the comedy, they also excel at some really heavy drama. Their performances are even better than most adult actors in horror flicks. This is one of the most likable horror ensembles I have ever watched and it strengthens the film.
I will say that some characters get more focus than others. It completely omits the African-American character Mike for half of the film. It’s especially frustrating when the other characters have their moments but he is left out, and the historian aspect is given to Ben. The film also decides to play down the overt racism that the bullies exhibit towards Mike. Maybe the filmmakers wanted to tone it down to the present political climate or the 80s setting? Either way, Mike is given the least amount of focus in the film compared to the others. I haven’t completed reading the book so I’m not sure if this is an issue that stems from the source material. I’m hoping that Mike gets more to do in the sequel.
I’m sure most of you are most curious about the antagonist of the film, the mother f***ing clown. Tim Curry’s original performance was a typical clown you would see at a birthday party who happens to eat kids. Bill Skarsgård is a Lovecraftian shapeshifting monster who just happens to take the form of a clown. The performance and the creature effects are wonderfully done, and the other forms Pennywise takes are super creative. I am usually not a fan of using CG in horror films but they were pretty well utilized. The makeup itself is very impressive and Skarsgard utilizes a range of freakish expressions. If I had to nit pick I would say that as far as dialogue is concerned, Skarsgard never really has any iconic lines like Curry did. As for the overall performance, Skarsgard plays Pennywise with an underlying savage hunger and sadistic joy. I very much enjoy his take on the character. I have to admit even though I was terrified for those kids, this Pennywise is really interesting to watch. I found myself rewatching whatever clips surfaced online. Except for the Georgie scene of course… Still, can’t unsee that. This performance is damn good and easily matches up to Curry’s.
I have to give a lot of credit to Andrés Muschietti and the rest of the crew. This could have just been another generic horror remake, but they gave it their all. The film’s visual style is brilliantly realized. The scares are super tense and aren’t afraid to go to some really disturbing places. The young cast has bright futures ahead of them if they continue to give us performances like these. Skarsgard brings an engaging new take on an iconic horror icon. This movie is a lot of fun and I would recommend seeing it with a full audience in the theater while you can.
BUT SERIOUSLY F*** THAT OPENING SCENE. . . . I KNOW IT WAS IN THE BOOK BUT C’MON!!!!