“We ALL float down here…”
If you grew up watching all the big cult classics or reading horror fiction, you’ll be more than familiar with that infamous line spoken by Pennywise The Dancing Clown in Stephen King’s IT. When the original 1986 novel was transformed into the successful 1990 television mini-series, it became mainstream pop culture, and the main reason lots of folks now commonly suffer from Coulrophobia (myself included). So, what can we expect from IT awakening from it’s slumber 27 years later? Does IT live up to the sheer terror we experienced through it’s other forms of media? Is IT a shot-for-shot carbon copy, or can we expect something entirely fresh?
IT is actually just the first half of the entire story. As you’ll already know if you’re a fan, IT is separated into two narratives – the main character’s experiences as children, and their return as adults. This movie is just Chapter One and focuses on the main characters, more commonly referred to as The Loser’s Club, as children, and their first encounters with It, an inter-dimensional demon trapped in their hometown of Derry that commonly manifests itself as a clown. It preys on children by transforming into their worst fears before promptly devouring them.
Of course, being a horror movie and a remake of a true classic at that, you’re sitting there wondering “just exactly how scary is IT?“… Well it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Thanks to the magic of spectacular make-up and special effects department, this adaptation has a lot to offer in the way of blood, gore and the outright bizarre. The movie has you on edge with It ever-lurking not too far from the protagonists. Even a calm moment can turn to “WHAT THE-?!” in a blink of an eyelid. There are plenty of jump scares to keep you on your toes, but I love that no scene throughout is safe from the wrath of It’s bag of deadly tricks. The movie is almost just as scary when Pennywise is absent as it is when It appears, as you just can’t predict It’s next move.
Let’s talk acting, because honestly – it’s up there with the best among the horror genre, a genre that can most often (let’s be completely honest here, even as a biased fan) be crummy in that aspect, with spotlight put more on gory effects than believable performances. Movies that centre around children can often mean inexperienced child actors in the main roles, but this is certainly not the case with IT. The Losers Club, consisting of real life teenagers Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Bev (Sophia Lillis), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Stan (Wyatt Oleff) and Mike (Chosen Jacobs) all embody the true struggles at the core of their respective characters, and the individual ways they cope when confronted with their deepest fears.
There were two particular standout performances for me – Jaeden Lieberher as Bill, a grieving teen that refuses to believe his missing younger brother dead and plunges himself headfirst in researching his disappearance that even comes at the cost of putting himself in fatal danger, and Sophia Lillis as Bev, a girl who is bullied at school and quite obviously implied to be sexually/mentally abused by her own controlling father. Both actors were put face to face with arguably some of the most challenging scenes in the movie, especially given their ages, and absolutely nailed them. Chosen Jacobs was also especially emotionally moving to watch with Mike’s individual backstory, and in a way I would’ve liked if the movie elaborated on it more. The same goes with Finn Wolfhard’s Richie, who, while receiving some of the movie’s most memorable one-liners, I still feel like there was more room to expand with his development.
Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise is honestly the number one reason you should go watch this movie. He can go from wide-eyed, child-like innocence to outrageous, quick-paced, razor-toothed menace in a split second… the stunning make-up is just an enhancement of what this wonderful, terrifying man is capable of. His performance has been compared with the outstanding talent of Heath Ledger’s psychopathic Joker in The Dark Knight, and I can see why – because that movie wouldn’t have been even half as good without Ledger’s Joker. While the Joker and Pennywise share an air of showmanship in how they terrorise their victims, there is simply no shred of humanity to the latter. This being isn’t and has never been human. However, both are survivors and will do anything to self-preserve at whatever means, and this is too is another aspect that Skarsgård portrays so well. While Tim Curry did a perfect job originating the role in the mini-series, Skarsgård really does make it his own.
You’ll be either pleased or disappointed to hear that there is quite a few differences in this new adaptation. For me, I found the majority of the changes were indeed required to make the story relevant to a 00’s audience. One example is the new wide variety of terrifying forms It takes over the course of the movie that are somewhat far-removed to the original source material. I think it’s fair to say our new generation of movie-goers are frightened of far more scarier visions than those of yesterday’s cinema-fans, who found a man wrapped in bandages the height of monster horror back in the 50’s, which is why this remake works so well – it’s the same story, just told differently to accommodate the tastes of a new, tougher audience. It’s a GOOD different, a difference that does indeed make this tale fresh and exciting, even if you do know the story… the sudden twists and shocking turns will still take you by surprise!
There is a strong comparison to be made to Netflix‘s mammoth-proportions of successful series Stranger Things, not only because both share a truly remarkable young actor in the form of Finn Wolfhard, but all the story parallels – a missing child, a group of outcast children, an other-worldly monster, riding around investigating the town on their pushbikes. But the most striking is the new change of time-period IT is now set in – the 1980’s. The original novel had the children exist in the 1950’s, with the mini-series choosing the 60’s so the latter half of the story of the adults could take place in the 90’s, exactly when the series was aired. I believe that not only has the time-setting been changed for not too dissimilar reasons, but also to reflect just how popular cult 80’s horror/slasher flicks are to this date, the exact reason Stranger Things is also set in this time-period.
Speaking of the 80’s, the movie features a tonne of fun Easter eggs, such as Gremlins and Beetlejuice posters decorating Bill’s room, and Tim Burton’s Batman and Nightmare On Elm Street playing at Derry’s cinema just to name a couple. There’s also many subtle references that only fans of Stephen King’s original novel and King’s other written works will catch onto. I loved the set design that contributes to the spooky atmosphere, especially the Well House which personally reminded me a lot of Bates Motel from Psycho. Overall, I think director Andy Muschietti did a spectacular job, and made IT the horror remake we all dreamed (and had nightmares) of, but never got… until now!
What did you think of IT? Did IT give you nightmares for days to come? Let me know in the comments!