IT (2017) [Review]

It (2017) Poster

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and gaze upon the midway that is the cinematic offerings of Stephen King! Along this stretch of delights we will see many sights that entice us with promises of human emotional roller-coasters, full of fear and pathos that will give us an experience we shall never forget. Come see how, in the recent years, like many of these over-hyped rides, many have failed to deliver upon what is promised. HOWEVER, gaze upon this latest entry, fresh off the heels of the unsuccessful Dark Tower film, which brings what is widely considered to be King’s greatest literary masterpiece to the big screen: IT!

This attraction promises it all: killer clowns, R-rated terror galore, an incredible cast of kids, enough nostalgia to not make it overbearing, and a performance that will NOT make you stand there and say “Tim Curry was better.” Do you care to enter into this tent of delights and witness the 2.5 hours plus thriller-diller for yourself? If you answer with a “yes”, then prepare yourself for one of the best cinematic adaptations of a Stephen King property since The Green Mile.

For those who never experienced the original 1986 novel or the 1990 television mini series adaptation, here are a few things you need to know: Set in the small town of Derry, Maine, the story is about a group who call themselves The Losers’ Club: a ragtag bunch of social misfits who are shunned and/or bullied by the other town members for one reason or another. We see them as kids growing up in the late 1950’s, then again as adults in the mid 1980’s. The Losers’ Club are the only ones who stand up to an entity who is feasting upon the children of the town, since the adults are so caught up in their own drama that they refuse to believe that something sinister could be going on.

You see, Derry has a missing child epidemic. Children go missing so often that after a while they get forgotten by the adults. It’s a horrible town to raise a child in but people still seem to do so. The Losers’ Club discover that this entity is the culprit and decide to take on the big, bad beast themselves. The beast being Pennywise The Dancing Clown. At least, that is one of its incarnations.

Pennywise has a special gift: he has the ability to physically become what scares you the most. Like Freddy Krueger, only with a less-agreeable bedside manner. Once it determines what that fear is, it uses it as a weapon to beat you down and feast upon that fear you produce. Oh, and your flesh as well. See folks, Pennywise finds children to be very tasty. Children are his pizza. Minus the pineapples.

So, now that we have all that laid out, let’s turn our attention to this film adaptation, shall we?

The 2017 It no longer has the children set in the late 1950’s. This time the year is 1988 – a year that has Tim Burton’s Batman double-featured with Lethal Weapon 2 at the local theater, despite both films being released in 1989.  Some may be shocked by this change. However, it is a welcome change since it helps the target audience (i.e. Generation Xers and Millennials caught up in 80’s nostalgia) get emotionally attached to the film and the children who make up The Losers’ Club.

And what a group of kids they are! Some surprisingly powerful, Oscar-worthy performances come from this group of young actors. Of particular note is Sophia Lillis as Beverly (the girl the town accuses of being a pre-teen slut) and Jeremy Ray Taylor as the fat kid everyone picks on just because he is fat.

It is the pathos and humor that comes from the kids that make this adaptation work so well. As in all great horror, it is the human elements which grip us – not the scares. Though the scares are effectively presented and some work a bit too well. This film takes its time pacing itself and, in doing so, drives us to become invested in the kids and honestly care about them. We do not want to see any harm come to our heroes – not only from Pennywise, but the other forces of evil that plague them, be it high-school bullies or even parents.

Of course, you can’t have a good adaptation of It without a good Pennywise and with Bill Skarsgard that is exactly what we have. The biggest fear many fans had regarding this adaptation was that the actor hired to portray Pennywise who be able to live up to Tim Curry’s high standard. Let’s face it – Pennywise is a great role! Thankfully, Skarsgard proves himself to be the right man for the job. He commands the screen as Pennywise when he is on it and instills so much intense fear and terror that you find yourself fearing he may actually leap of the screen and bite your face off. He also puts his own spin on the character instead of trying to copy Curry’s interpretation and the results are satisfying.

Remaking It was not an easy task. It passed hands many times in Hollywood, leaving many fearful it would become a dead project. The film then landed in the hands of director Andy Muschietti – a man who made us regret not wearing Depends to a horror film when he directed Mama. This is Muschietti’s first film since then and it is clear that the man loves the source material. Under Muschietti’s direction, the film finds the perfect balance of both white-knuckled screaming terror and touching sentiment in the center of The Losers’ Club.

In a time when nostalgia-themed reboots and remakes are flopping faster than a film with the words “Directed By Uwe Boll” in the credits, it is nice to see someone who cares take the time to do the job right. It will go down not only as a horror film that future generations will love to watch at Halloween slumber parties but also as a true cinema classic. It will keep floating in our minds long after it leaves the box office.

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