New Line Cinema / Warner Brothers
Written by Cary Fukunaga, Chase Palmer and Gary Dauberman
Directed by Andrés Muschietti
Starring Bill Skarsgard, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Jaeden Leiberher, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs and Jeremy Ray Taylor
First and foremost, there is nothing about the book IT that I do not know. From cover to cover, I have read that particular book every summer since I was thirteen years old. I know all of the characters, even the obscure ones and their journeys are well-defined in the pages of Stephen King’s novel. I knew going to into this movie that 1. It was only going to be the first part of the story and 2. They were not going to be able to put everything in the film that is represented in the book. At most, my biggest hope for the film was that the overall feel and emotional core of the book would be captured in this movie. Thankfully, It was.
IT is the story of the town of Derry, Maine and the malignant force that feeds on it. A group of kids in the town are brought together to stop the threat of Pennywise the Clown, a monster who has been killing the children of Derry for years while the town turns a blind eye.
The new movie takes place in the summer of 1989 a year after the death of Bill Denbrough’s brother George in one of the first brutal scenes of the movie. One of the things that I will tell you is that the movie does not hold back on the blood and gore, even when it is happening to children. Bill has become obsessed with finding where George’s body has ended up. He believes that his body must either be in the sewers or washed out in a location in town where the run off lets out called The Barrens. Bill enlists the help of his friends to search the area for George’s body as other kids in the town go missing. Giving Bill an actual motivation to his journey makes sense in the film and enhaces the drama.
Joining the growing “Loser’s Club” is new kid Ben Hanscomb, who spends most of his time in the library, Beverly Marsh and Mike Hanlon. All of the kids in this film are spot on perfect in how they play the scenes not only with each other but in the scary moments with Pennywise. There is a genuine quality to their dialogue and, even though the language might bother some, they talk the way kids without supervision do (Finn Wolfhard as Rochie Tozier is amazing. He steals every scene he is in and gives everyone an emotional release when the tension gets too high.).
Bill Skarsgard is brilliant as Pennywise. There was a palpable mixture of both innocence and menace in his portrayal. You definitely got the sense that the clown persona has been successful for so long because he is disarming in many moments on-screen. Even the supporting cast was great. There was a far off zombie like quality to the people of the town and it served to isolate the kids more, which is what makes their dynamic work so well.
Although everyone in the film did a great job, there was one thing I didn’t like: what the writers did to Mike Hanlon. In the novel, Mike is the only black child in Derry. His presence makes him not only the biggest outsider of the group, but his status in the town made him more determined that many of the others because he drew strength from his parents, specifically, his father. His father gave him the information he needed to know who he was in the town and set him to find out the history of Derry. Unfortunately, the movie gives all of that character and plot development to Ben, diminishing Mike to being the perpetual victim who needs to be saved by his white friends.
Not only do they diminish Mike by taking his parents away, but they diminish his intellect in finding the information that the kids need and they take away Henry’s motivations for hating Mike (Henry and his father are unrepentant racists who blame their family’s failures on Mike’s family’s success), which makes the scenes between them all the more unremarkable. It felt like the writers had no problem exploring fear in the form of Pennywise, but were too afraid to tackle their own fear of portraying racism on the screen.
Beyond that issue, IT is a satisfying and entertaining horror movie that has some truly amazing moments that were not in the original novel (the scene in the garage with the projector was an amazing jump scare that was pitch perfect and unforgettable.) and the ones that are memorable from the book are portrayed well. The cast was great, the atmosphere and effects all worked insanely well and there were moments that were genuinely scary. Definitely go see the film and check out my choices of who should play the Loser’s Club as adults.
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