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IT (2017) – REVIEW

It’s finally here.

With The Dark Tower earlier in the summer and shows like Gerald’s Game and Mr. Mercedes gracing the small screen (plus a host of other adaptations in active development), it appears to be the year of Stephen King. Now it’s time to cast our eyes to the big one – the updated adaptation of one of his biggest, best and most deliciously demented novels – hoping all the way that it will be an improvement over the poorly acted and feeble snore that is the original 1990 TV movie with Tim Curry. There’s no way it couldn’t be, really, such is the pathetic lack of invention in that version (and seriously, if you haven’t watched it recently, go back and remind yourself what good acting doesn’t look like).

Indeed, for as long as this movie’s been announced, I’ve been of the confident assumption that it would be a significant improvement. What I’ve lacked the confidence to assume, on the other hand, is the idea that Bill Skarsgard might be a more impressive Pennywise than Curry; not because he hasn’t proven himself as a good actor, but simply because Curry was so wonderful as the demonic, child-eating clown that without him there would be literally no point in watching it. He single-handedly held the original together.

As it turns out, I was both right and wrong. Right that this shiny, updated version helmed by Mama director Andy Muschietti is indeed a far better film; so much better, in fact, that it hardly warrants comparison. But wrong with the assumption that Skarsgard wouldn’t give us something quite so memorable – he absolutely nails it.

It’s a different performance, of course, because it’s kind of a different character. Where Curry’s Pennywise was a pretty stereotypical trolling clown, Skarsgard’s is the personification of inimical evil. Sure he likes to play with his victims, but there’s a genuine malice about him too. A sort of hateful miasma in every scene.

Bill Skarsgard Pennywise The Clown

It’s likewise a more layered performance than first appears. The wicked playfulness and evil grins disguise a genuine desperation. When he asks Georgie, down in the storm drain, if he’d like his boat back, the crack in his monstrous voice exposes the insatiable hunger he’s awoken with after the last 27 years of slumber… or whatever these things do when they’re not eating children (Georgie’s turtle might know). It’s a really fun and wicked performance that’s rightly being talked about.

But where It really wins us over isn’t with the evil clowns and scary stuff – it’s with the group of kids as our protagonists. The so-called Losers Club. Where in the novel and the original film all this Losers Club stuff took place in the 50s, here it’s been shifted forward 30 years to play to the next generation. This means we’re at once in the oddly comforting world of Spielberg and Joe Dante – small town America in the 80s where kids ride their bikes and cinemas screen Batman, Lethal Weapon 2 and, most aptly, A Nightmare On Elm Street 5. Placing us in this familiar milieu somehow gives the film more resonance and makes the relatable kids even more relatable, which is important because It is as much about navigating the confusing annals of adolescence and defeating its insecurities as it is about defeating an overt evil like Pennywise.

IT movie 2017 Stephen King

As well as Spielbergian influences, there’s something very Stranger Things about the whole film; perhaps because of the supernatural slant, perhaps simply because that was so recent. But it’s a connection enforced by the presence of Finn Wolfhard, who was so great in that show and is probably the standout amongst his co-stars, all of whom are pretty brilliant. The chemistry between them simply sparks; their conversations are funny and snappy, their fears are real, their friendship feels genuine, their actions seem believable. They’re so easy to route for and so enjoyable to spend time with that you can’t help but feel disappointed that they won’t be showing up in Part 2. Well, at least not in the same capacity (Muschietti has revealed he’ll be using them in flashbacks).

And sure, you may reach the point of hair pulling when, for the umpteenth time, one of the kids runs off into the dark on their own in search of an illusion… but then you remember that hey, they’re kids. That’s what kids do.

If it weren’t for a certain lack of finesse with the horror elements, I’d be saying It was amazing. While it’s enjoyably twisted and occasionally creepy, and the stuff Skarsgard is doing is weird and fun, too many of the ‘scary’ bits where Pennywise is terrorizing the kids individually just feels too rushed and reliant on music building to an ear-splitting crescendo. With a little more patience and perhaps a scaling back of not-so-great CGI, this could have been a genuinely creepy movie.


Verdict:

The cynic in me says It needs to be scarier, but the rest of me thinks it’s about as good as we could have hoped for, not least because it’s been so well cast. Besides, the story isn’t really about being scary; it’s about childhood, adulthood, and the bridge between them. This Part 1, at least, captures the spirit of childhood as well as Stand By Me… just with some added clowning and belly carving.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆