Warner Bros. 2 hours 15 minutes R
This film adaptation of Stephen King’s IT novel and TV Series is disturbing. Actor Bill Skårsgard as the horrific clown, Pennywise, is incredibly frightening and creepy. But Argentinian Director, Andy Muschietti, has created a fascinating piece of filmmaking that is bloody and fun. He wanted IT to be like King’s book, “gory, gruesome and graphic.” And it is. Set in the 1980’s, King wanted to bring back all of the monsters of his childhood and maybe yours, too. You may jump out of your seat more than once.
However, this isn’t just a horror flick told from the point of view of a scared band of kids. It’s more about the relationships of these kids and the courage each has to face their innermost fears alone and together. One of the things Director Muschietti did was to keep the talented young cast members away from Skårsgard dressed as Pennywise the clown until they were actually shooting scenes with him.
You can see and feel the spontaneous chill of pure fear on their faces. They all admit how freaky it was to see Pennywise that first time but it works. The film has all the elements of a horror film, including long, slow shots deftly handled by Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (The Handmaiden movie), effectively using shadows and lighting. That combined with a score by Benjamin Wallfisch (Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice) builds to foreshadow that something scary is about to happen which keeps the audience always on edge.
But it’s the relationships of the kids are more important. That’s the magic. The movie is about facing our darkest fears and the Clown is the metaphor used to present a simple message. Bad things happen when you give in to fear and each of these kids has their own “issue” from stuttering, weight, OCD, and hypochondria, to having an abusive father. They each have to stand up for themselves before they can defeat the clown and then do it together. Writers, Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman give the kids believable dialogue to differentiate each character.
The director knew he had to get someone special to fill the big shoes of the original villainous Pennywise played by Tim Curry in the TV series. Muschietti says Skårsgard saved him a bundle on stunt people and green screen because he is so physical, he was able to do his own stunts. And he could move one eye independently of the other to give the crazed look the director wanted.
Skårsgard really embodies the role. His Pennywise could give you, and maybe himself, nightmares. He even felt a little guilty that he was scaring one of the kids too much in one scene, but when they yelled, “Cut!” the kid surprisingly told him what an amazing actor he is.
Bill, who emerges as the leader of the kids, is played by Jaeden Lieberher (also great in Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special). He’s older now and his voice has changed. He’s the stutterer in this film. When his brother, Georgie, goes missing, he’s obsessed with finding him.
Richie played by Finn Wolfard with comically thick glasses,(Stranger Things) is the funny one. Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) is sickly and afraid to do anything. Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) is OCD afraid and disgusted by everything. He doesn’t want to get dirty. Mike (Chosen Jacobs) is the oldest and strongest, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor, Ant Man) is the nerdy, overweight new kid. They are all unpopular outsiders who are constantly bullied. They even call themselves The Losers.
Then there’s Beverly (Sophia Lillis, Midsummer Night’s Dream), the gorgeous red head whose abusive father seems more creepy than the clown. Beverly is captivating not only to the boys but to the audience whenever she’s on screen. Can’t take your eyes off her. She’s a remarkably good young actress. Set in 1980's there’s a fitting reference to Molly Ringwald. The reference fits and drew a laugh. Bev helps the boys out of a jam and joins their group. The underlying pubescent sexual tension surrounding Beverly is handled with a deft touch. Each of the Losers faces their personal demon capped off with the goriest scene, Beverly’s bloody bathroom flood.
Just to make it more interesting, this band of brothers and a sister have those bullies to contend with. Nicholas Hamilton is the leader of this hateful bunch, but the bully plot line feels somewhat weak. It feels like this plot line is inserted mainly because it's a hot, current events issue. The Losers had a lot more to contend with than just those bullies.
Stephen King fans have been criticizing the most controversial scene in the book being left out of the movie. On the page, the boys cement their relationship with Beverly by having sex with her. That orgy scene is replaced with something less prurient on film. Just because a book is adapted to film, doesn’t mean it has to faithfully follow every passage. Literature and film are two different forms of art and can have their own unique treatment.
Skårsgard’s horrifically frightening portrayal of Pennywise is sure to become a Halloween costume classic. But the pleasure watching these young actors develop their strength and camaraderie makes this film so much more than just a fright night at the movies. The trademark gruesome classic Stephen King scenes absolutely have audiences gripping the theater seats. There’s so much detail in every scene that we think audiences of all ages will keep going back. Pennywise returns every 27 years, but it doesn’t look like the wait will be that long to see IT return again.