The long awaited film adaptation of Stephen King’s classic 1,138 page novel has finally emerged from the sewers of Derry to our cinema screens. I couldn’t suppress my excitement and anticipation for this one, the 1990 TV mini series adaptation is something myself and my friends discovered when we were approximately twelve years old. We instantly became an admirer of the character of Pennywise and story that surrounded him and the children of Derry. So when I heard that a film adaptation was in production, I became very interested to see how they would tell this story with modern day practical and visual effects.
This film follows a group of frequently bullied kids, as they must band together to uncover the secrets as to why so many children go missing in their town, whilst also facing manifestations of their fears due to a shapeshifting entity that mostly takes the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
This film scraps the interwoven timelines of the novel and essentially adapts just half of it. The focus here is on the element of the story that features the kids, this allows for the film to be much more focused and also not as rushed. It was a smart decision, that immediately eliminates the irritating flashback structure that the mini series had. Constant flash backs can work in a large novel much more than they can in a feature film and I’m glad the filmmakers realised this. The run time is two hours and fifthteen minutes, which on paper is very long for a horror film but anyone familiar with the story beforehand knows that it warrants that amount of time, to let the story flow and develop effectively and that’s exactly what it does. The pace of the film is very tight, not a single scene overstays it’s welcome and that results in the run time feeling much shorter than it actually is.
I’m convinced IT has the greatest ensemble of child actors I’ve ever seen in a feature film. They all flourish individually with their performances but also work extremely well when together. They all felt natural and believable, their chemistry was palpable and their dialogue between each other also felt organic, it makes me wonder how much of their witty dialogue and jokes were in the script and how much was improvised. Jaeden Lieberher portrays Bill Denbrough and I was skeptical about how the script was going to handle this character and the answer is, very well. He refuses to accept that his younger brother Georgie has gone, still believing that he is out there waiting to be found and that serves as the driving force for him and the rest of the Loser’s Club getting into situations that they would’ve otherwise avoided. I was surprised with how well he developed as the film progressed and he had a few moments where his lines of dialogue and Jayden’s delivery really hit home in a major way.
Sophia Lillis portrays Beverly, she not only gets bullied at school but things aren’t much different for her when she’s at home either, due to the abusive relationship she has with her father. Sophia handled the more mature elements of the role in an impressive manner. The hardships she has to deal with on a daily basis were conveyed quite early on, but it was her performance that really allowed me to care for Beverly’s well being. The one member of the young cast that many people will be familiar with is Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame. He plays the motor mouth Richie and he brings many of the films laughs, with his sharp wit and comedic timing. He does get a couple moments to showcase his dramatic range and he succeeds, also just like Bill he has some lines of dialogue towards the end that really make an impact. Eddie is brought to life by Jack Dylan Grazer and he is excellent, the chatty fast talking nature of Eddie is a hard thing to not only do, but even harder to do in such a way that doesn’t become annoying. Jack manages to utilise that trait of Eddie to make him more of a character you grow to love. When confronted by his fears, he was the one who stood out to me the most in terms of showcasing that fear through his performance the best. I’ll be here forever if I continue to talk about the rest of the Loser’s Club but all the actors did great as a unit and as individuals.
Bill Skarsgård’s performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown is a special one. Whenever he was on screen, my face lit up with a massive grin. This is the best psychologically transformative performance I have witnessed since Heath Ledger’s Joker. Everything from his voice to his subtle mannerisms to how he interacts with the kids makes him an incredibly memorable character. This iteration of Pennywise most definitely sits among Michael Myers, Chucky, Freddy Krueger and Leather Face as iconic characters of the horror genre. I could probably spend hours revelling over the aspects of Pennywise that I loved, but instead of doing that I will just make a point of saying the way he was sparingly used throughout the first half of the film was very effective. He would show up quite often but in small doses and glimpses. THEN! there is a scene towards the middle of the film inside a decrepit abandoned house. It’s during this scene that Pennywise is truly uncovered and we get to see Bill really indulge in the madness of the character and start to truly perform. This sequence inside the house is outstanding, it’s relentlessly loaded with scares and as soon as the sequence had ended, I knew that it had instantly became one of my favourite horror sequences of all time.
No film has ever made my heart race as fast as this film did, despite the run time that goes beyond 120 minutes there still manages to be a consistent rate of thrills and scares in almost every other scene. There is a plethora of nightmarish imagery, some of which were burned into my memory and still linger there days after seeing the film. There’s also quite a few genius scares that would even surprise major horror fans who can usually predict scares before they occur. If you can catch this film in IMAX then I highly recommend viewing it in that format. The enormous IMAX screen and excellent sound quality definitely added to the experience.
The sequence that was briefly featured in the trailers involving a projector is one of the standouts for me, it compeltely subverted my expectations in terms of how I thought that scene would end and provided myself and the audience that was in attendance with some massive thrills. There’s also another sequence that involves so much blood, that it instantly reminded me of a number of iconic horror sequences that also feature gallons of blood. The sequences it brought to my mind were the elevator of blood from The Shining, blood soaked Carrie at her school prom and the gallons of blood coming out of the bed in A Nightmare on Elm Street. This scene in IT certainly stacks among them as one of horrors greatest and most memorable bloody sequences.
Director Andres Muschietti did a superb job handling the relationships of the kids and balancing that with Pennywise and all of the films more intense moments. The cinematography was very clean and well framed, how the camera moved around the space in which the actors occupied, often added to the dread of the scenes that featured them confronting their fears.
The sound design and sound mixing is incredible, every finer detail of sound is effectively amplified so it can be heard in the moments where it would have the biggest impact. The musical score was also impressive, very haunting and memorable at times.
The only issues I have with the film a very minor nitpicks, a couple times the visual effects used on Pennywise were a bit jarring to the point where they didn’t look believable, but that was a very rare occurrence. The only other thing is just a minor change from the book involving the actions of Mike, his investigative nature was missing and was instead given to the character of Ben. That wouldn’t usually be an issue, but in this case it took away a key trait of Mike, thus resulting in decreasing his purpose throughout the majority of the story.
IT is a tour de force of nightmarish thrills and imagery. A horror film that is also filled with plenty of heart, emotion and laughs. This iteration of Pennywise is iconic and the young cast is fantastic.
(5 Stars out of 5)
IT; Starring Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer and Chosen Jacobs.
Directed by Andy Muschietti.
Now showing in U.K. and US Cinemas.