IT (2017)

Stephen King’s IT, an adaptation of his 1986 novel and a remake of the 1990 miniseries, follows seven kids knows as “The Loser’s Club” during the summer of 1989 in Derry, Maine. Their summer is riddled with constant disappearances of kids in their small town. Despite wanting to enjoy their summer, the Loser’s Club is stalked by a sinister looking monster known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard).

The main story focuses on Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) whose little brother Georgie went missing 6 months prior. Bill’s quest to find Georgie brings the group closer, but also leads to their inevitable showdown with Pennywise.

The feature film adaptation is structured much different than the 1990 miniseries. There are no adult versions of the Loser’s Club in the film. The story doesn’t switch from the 1960’s to 1990 with repeated flashbacks. It’s a straightforward story that focuses on the kids and how they come together to fight Pennywise.

The entire cast is great and the young kids keep the film light and funny when it needs to be. The film explores some very dark subject matter that has nothing to do with Pennywise and the humor adds some much needed levity. Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard steals the show, as Richie, with his wildly inappropriate one-liners  and constant barrage of mom jokes. Sophia Lillis is great as Beverly and Jack Dylan Grazer kills it as the extreme germophobe, Eddie.

As amazing as the kids are, the film hinged on whether or not Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise could live up to Tim Curry’s iconic performance – and boy did he ever. This version of Pennywise is a little different. He’s a little bit of a showman and given a lot more to say and do. His “perforamnces” are meant to terrify his victims and get the most fear out of them before he takes them. Thankfully, with advancements in CGI and an R-rating, Skarsgard is given a few more tools to play with. He also has the blueprint Tim Curry left behind to build his character around. And that’s not to take away from Skarsgard’s amazing performance. He’s absolutely terrifying. For the slight drool when Pennywise talks, to his ghoulish squeals of laughter, this Pennywise will scare another generation of kids who watch this movie when they aren’t supposed to.   This performance reminds me of Heath Ledger taking up the Joker mantle after Jack Nicholson. It’s the same character, same crazy, but with an updated/ sadistic twist too it.

Director Andy Muschietti masterfully crafts each kids encounter with Pennywise like they’re horror shorts that happen to be in the same universe. Muschietti follows that by making the group’s encounters with Pennywise even more terrifying by ratcheting up the crazy and creating more imaginative ways Pennywise can terrorize these children.  The sequence at the abandoned house, the slide show scene in the garage, and the final showdown with Pennywise is right out of a middle school kid’s nightmares and some of the best constructed horror sequences in years.

If there was any doubt about what kind of film IT would be and how much they would show, that doubt flies out the window after Georgie’s interaction with Pennywise at the sewer drain. The miniseries never showed what actually happened to Georgie. This time, audiences get a front row seat to how dangerous Pennywise is and it sets the tone for the rest of the film.

IT may not scare audiences but it’s easily one of the best horror films in years. The horror sequences are so well constructed and paced. It’s a master class on how to frighten people without a million jump scares.  The story is as delight to watch despite it trying to scare you every 5 minutes.  It has a lovable cast and one of the best horror villains  and they all give amazing performances. Muscheittie doesn’t use his R-rating for a 2-hour bloodbath, instead he uses it to distract you with humor while Pennywise’s campaign of carnage slowly constricts around the kids like an anaconda.

IT is one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever made. Let’s hope Muscheittie and crew can make magic again with part 2.

Grade: B+