Not clowning around
It is directed by Andy Muschietti and is based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Stephen King. The novel was previously adapted into a 1990 TV miniseries. This film is the first of a planned duology.
Earning the title "good Stephen King adaptation" has surprisingly not been an easy thing to do for the ever growing library of movies based on some material from the creative brain nerves of Mr. King. That library consists of such a wide spectrum, from master works in the likes of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, all the way to garbage heaps as seen in the likes of Cell and Maximum Overdrive. That being said, trying to predict if a new Stephen King movie will turn out good is a gamble that you probably don't want to bet on.
King's 1000 plus page novel It experienced its first taste of the visual medium with the 1990 two part miniseries that saw good ol' Tim Curry portray Pennywise the Clown. I have not read the novel nor seen the miniseries in its entirety. I have seen bits and pieces of the miniseries, and the general consensus I get from others is that the first part involving the kids is pretty good, but the second part with the adults is a borderline disaster, offering nothing to further enhance whatever you might have taken away from the first part. Given the positive responses that It has already garnered, I'd say the miniseries will be long forgotten by the time the It sequel comes out in 2019.
The film is meant to serve as the first half of the book, or as it's stated in the end credits, It: Chapter One. It opens in October 1988, when a young stuttering boy named Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) gives a sailboat to his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) to play with outside in the rain. Georgie accidentally lets the sailboat fall into a gutter, where it is picked up by a strange man dressed as a clown. The clown (Bill Skarsgard) introduces himself as "Pennywise the Dancing Clown" and offers a balloon to Georgie. When Georgie attempts to retrieve the boat, Pennywise bites off his arm and drags him into the sewer. Fast forward to June 1989 on the last day of school for the students of Derry Middle School. We meet Bill's friends Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), as well as the young girl Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a chubby boy named Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and a home schooled boy named Mike (Chosen Jacobs). Each of these kids is tormented by bullies at school, mainly the thug boy Henry (Nicholas Hamilton). But there's not just bullying going on with the kids in Derry, Maine. Random kids are going missing for some unknown reason. Bill tracks down some clues as to the possible whereabouts of Georgie, and Ben reads up on the history of Derry, learning about the town's mysterious tragedies and child disappearances. One by one, each kid in the later titled Losers' Club has a terrifying encounter with Pennywise, eventually coming all together to counter the clown threat that they know they can't defeat on their own.
The whole "bad things happening to children" story element isn't totally fresh nowadays, primarily because of the recent success of Netflix's Stranger Things, which is eerily similar in some ways to It. Hell, the film stars Finn Wolfhard, who plays Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things, the leader of the group of boys who become involved with all of the series' science fiction happenings'. What does make It work is that it's a fresh overhaul of a novel by a popular author that wasn't done justice earlier, and it has a central villain that happens to be something that many people fear: clowns.
- The Losers' Club is well-casted, with the kids bouncing off one another in a way that feels natural and reminiscent of the way a group of naive kids would act when they get into some kind of trouble. The kids in It tackle incoming danger head on without consulting their parents or the local authorities, kind of how the kids set out on their own to find the dead body in Stand By Me. When they're not freaking out about Pennywise, the Losers are trading verbal jabs with one another, and it never ceases to get old. The Losers love to be vulgar, and the actors show no hesitation when they make penis jokes or shout F-bombs at one another. The majority of the film's humor stems from them, and, surprisingly, not Pennywise.
- The run time. Is there some kind of law out there now in Hollywood that says horror movies cannot be longer than 100 minutes? If that's true, Andy Muschietti said screw that and proceeded to make his film a meaty 135 minutes, a rarity for a genre that is starved for a consistency of success. Muschietti has given his film a slow build and the time necessary to tell its story effectively. Too many filmmakers nowadays seem to have forgotten build-up is important to effectively tell a horror story. Who in their right mind would come at you with torches and pitchforks if your horror movie happened to be longer than 100 minutes? You might find it interesting to note that some of the most highly regarded horror films like The Exorcist, The Shining, and Rosemary's Baby all have longer -than-100-minutes running times.
- It bombards you with an endless barrage of jump scares, so if you are of the type that easily jumps and shrieks at loud noises and sudden shocks, then I would highly advise you to stay far away from It. For everyone else though, the problem is that the jump scares keep coming at you with diminishing returns, as it becomes increasingly obvious that the Losers can't walk around a dark or enclosed area without getting a surprise from Pennywise. The best jump scares are the most unexpected ones, but after they happen enough times in a row, they tend to get old. The art of the jump scare is a worthy topic. That's for another day, however.
I'm hesitant to call It a great film, even though it has the story and emotional weight to be appropriately categorized as a great film. I can't even call it the best horror film of the year, because it doesn't have the originality and brilliance of Get Out (still in my book the best film of the year so far). The overuse of jump scares wears out after long enough, though the film is still able to remain funny and interesting, thanks in large part to the performances of the young cast members. Bill Skarsgard gives a solid performance too as Pennywise, turning him into the sadistic, cackling monster that fits the bloody, hardcore tone. It centers on a group of kids, but in ironic fashion, the movie is definitely not for the kiddies. If you can forgive the annoying surplus of jump scares, It is a freaky time at the theater that will surely be a scary success in a month that is almost as bad of a cinematic dumping ground as January.
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