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Welcome back to SBox Recommends, where our motto is “every movie has its fans”. Here I see a movie, review it, and then find out who will like it most and who will like it least.
When thinking about horror movie villains, many memorable and iconic characters may come to one’s mind. Whether it’s more classic villains like Dracula or Frankenstein, slightly more contemporary ones like Freddie Kruger or Jason Vorhees, or even cult favorites like Chucky or Eraserhead, horror films have captured the imaginations of many with these clever, conniving, and threatening characters. However, what list of popular horror villains would be complete without the clown prince of nightmares (not to be confused with the clown prince of “crime”) himself, Pennywise the Dancing Clown — otherwise simply known as It?
I was about 12 or 13 years old when I was shown the original TV special for the first time. It was among the many 80’s movies and shows my mother showed me as a kid, and it definitely scared the shit out of me at the time. Looking back on it now, that fear quickly turned into camp and cheese as I’ve now seen much scarier. Still I hold It dear to my heart as one of the most entertaining light horror films one can watch when discounting the clearly inferior second part. And from that special came the public desire to see that killer clown caper formally adapted for the big screen.
I wasn’t initially excited about the movie, expecting anything from a passable horror flick to a trainwreck. I wasn’t vehemently against the idea, but I had my reservations which prompted me to wait for the early reviews to see if it’d be worth my time. When I heard overwhelmingly positive buzz about the film, it honestly caught me off guard. Can It really escape the mostly campy image that had been ingrained in my head for years? Just how good can It possibly be?
It is a supernatural/psychological horror film based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Stephen King; it is the second live action adaptation of the book following the 1990 TV miniseries also of the same name.
The town of Derry, Maine has long been plagued by a very troubling history — one of tragedy and mysterious child disappearances every couple decades or so. Between the years 1988-89, these disappearances start popping up again along with strange, horrific experiences plaguing the children of Derry — all connected by run-ins with a scary killer clown named Pennywise, who feeds off the fear of kids before eating them. Driven by curiosity, responsibility, or just simple revenge, it’s up to a group of misfit kids (dubbing themselves The Losers’ Club) to come together and rid Derry of this monster before it kills again.
I’d like to make it clear off the bat that I have not actually read the original novel. I’m interested in doing so eventually, but this review will be that of someone who’s only experience with this story is the 1990 minseries. Any comparisons I make will be towards that and not the book.
That said, I am thoroughly happy to say that I was wrong to be skeptical of this movie. This wasn’t just a good recreation of the original story, it was a solid, atmospheric, and immersive remake, far superior to the miniseries. This is due in part to the excellent way the movie is presented narratively.
The first and most blatant difference between the miniseries and this movie is the film’s focus from mostly supernatural horror to mainly psychological horror. While the miniseries main source of horror was this creepy clown, how scary it is, and what in the world it even is, the movie was more focused on what Pennywise represents in and of itself: fear. It’s about the general concept of fear itself and how that fear affects each individual person and how it varies. Fear can wear different faces depending on a person’s history, their upbringing, or just bad circumstances. Certain people are better at dealing with fear than others, and one of the most effective ways to conquer It (as in fear itself) is with the help of those you love. That’s what the story is supposed to be about, and its a concept well-accomplished here.
Because of the aforementioned change in focus, you also get a much different format for the story here with the movie. You spend a lot more time with each individual character with the chief purpose being to see what each kid is afraid of, why they’re afraid of it, and how the coming together of these characters helps defuse that fear. For instance, if someone is afraid of their abusive father, having a group of dependable friends can take them away from that for a while. If someone is afraid of a certain image, at least they have their friends to take their minds off of it. If someone is having trouble coping with a traumatic event, his friends are there to help them through that fact.
Everything plays into the metaphor, the result of which is more character development among each character. You like and relate to these individuals much more because you understand where they’re coming from; and when they come together you root for them in their fight against those, whether it be bullies or a killer clown, who seek so desperately to take that happiness away.
Speaking of which, let’s not forget that this film works even on a surface level. The story goes along at a pretty good pace, though it should be noted that there are a few scenes that may come across as a bit elongated. Some will consider that dragging things out, but I’d argue that it’s taking its time developing the atmosphere of each scene. It doesn’t feel like wasted time, because you’re too busy thinking “Oh shit! He’s about to bite his arm off” to notice.
The movie has a consistent sense of pace and quality, never feeling too boring and never dropping in quality from one scene to the next. Each scene blends into the next perfectly even when jumping upwards of a few months. There’s nothing clumsy, choppy, or narratively flawed about this movie thankfully. So, from a technical level, I’m almost tempted to say the writing is near flawless. Even the general plot progression, tone, and dialogue are objectively perfect.
The only flaws I could find with the movie are personal nitpicks at best. For example, it can be argued that there’s one or two unnecessary side-characters, but they didn’t detract from the movie. Also, I personally believe the best part of the miniseries, the rock fight, is inferior to the one in the miniseries. However, that’s much more a MP than a YP, so I barely count that as a flaw.
Since this is the first horror movie I’ve ever reviewed, allow me to create an all-new category dedicated to one key question: How scary is this movie on a scale of 1 to 10?
For It, I would say this film has a moderate Scare Factor of 6 out of 10. In a nutshell, this movie wasn’t so much scary as it was creepy. The difference between the two is that scary films get a visible, often physical reaction out of a person, while a creepy film leaves you either shook or disturbed. Much of this movie’s horror comes from the film’s atmosphere being so immersive and personally startling. You’ll definitely get an uneasy feeling as you see certain scenes take place. However, the likelihood of you actually jumping or screaming in the theater is only slightly above average at best.
I must admit, however, that I may not be the best source for this information due to one thing: I’m not really afraid of clowns. I don’t love them particularly, but I don’t hate them either. Granted, if anything comes at me with a knife or with killer teeth, I’ll run like hell. Doesn’t matter to me what the killer’s profession is or how they’re dressed. That being said, if you are coulrophobic, dial that shit to a level 8 or 9 and may God help you!
I don’t usually cover these two topics in the same category, but I feel it necessary for one major reason. It’s hard to tell which parts are CG or effects and which parts are just clever editing or presentation. That is a major accomplishment when I have to ask that question during a film.
The movie appears to be very light in CG effects for the most part, relegating most of it to Pennywise’s powers. For example, Pennywise has the ability to transform into different scary images and has a creepy carnivore mouth at times. That’s the most you’re going to see in terms of CG, because the rest is either editing, make-up, set design, or costume design. Basically, CG is only used when it needs to be, especially towards the climax.
That said, the movie is also shot, edited and put together masterfully. I’ve been talking a lot about atmosphere during this review, and the main source of this film’s creepy, intense, almost dream-like feel is the cinematography and direction. Something about the various things you see, regardless of whether Pennywise is on screen, gives the impression that something is wrong. It doesn’t look that way on the surface, but there’s always a certain heaviness and dread that leaks into every scene.
That’s just when It isn’t around. Just wait till he is. It’s a horrifying thing to witness (in a good way). Each horror scene is aided by the film’s tendency to stay in that moment and not pan away to something else, allowing the tension to rise as you expect the inevitable. A perfect example of this is the infamous Georgie’s boat scene. You know what’s coming, you know what’s about to happen, but the scene is just keeps rolling on in real-time. This horrible thing is about to happen in front of you, and there’s nothing you can do about it but wait for it to be over. A classic horror movie trope perfectly done.
This is the part where I start sounding redundant as I go through each actor and say they did amazing in their roles. Why? Because that’s exactly how everyone did: amazing! Not one single actor was phoning it in. Not one mediocre performance. Not one person is slacking behind the others, and that especially goes for The Losers’ Club. Take notes casting directors. Commit the names of all these kids by memory and remember them next time you need to cast a child actor. You can’t get much better than this.
So, to not waste your time, let’s just talk about just the ones that stand out especially starting with Jaeden Lieberher as Billy.
What I liked about this portrayal of Billy and the reason he stands out is because there actually isn’t much change between here and the miniseries version. It’s almost as if Liberher was specifically channeling Jonathan Brandis’ version, which isn’t a bad thing. Brandis was one of the best parts of that series. What Lieberher does do to spice things up is broaden the emotional range of the character a bit. This Billy seems to be more determined with more of a sense of responsibility to him. He also really sells those bravery scenes as well as his more emotional moments. You can definitely tell why he’s the leader of the Losers’ Club.
Sophia Lillis plays this version of Beverly, and took to the role perfectly. Perhaps her biggest strength over the original Emily Perkins portrayal was her role as the glue that brought and kept the whole group together. Not to mention, she flat out carries those solo scenes of torment when it comes to her horrific backstory. The emotional stress and fear she demonstrates makes her performance probably the best in the whole film.
Playing the role of Richie this time around was Finn Wolfhard (who you’ll recognize from Stranger Things). This young gentleman right here was the damn main event of the movie. He’s funny as hell, guys! I wasn’t ready. Such a smartass bastard this character is, and with this actor behind him how can you not love him? Excellent successor to Seth Green.
These 3 were just my personal highlights of this film’s Losers’ Club, but believe me when I say that they were all great. I love how Chosen Jacobs version of Mike is even more an outsider this time around than before and Jeremy Ray Taylor’s Ben was a bit more isolated and historically inclined. Wyatt Oleff’s version of Stan gets a lot more screentime and attention this time around which added to his performance a bit. Jack Dylan Grazer’s Eddie was made much less of a mama’s boy and more of a hypochondriac which was a fitting change considering his backstory. Lastly, let’s not forget about little Georgie, played by Jackson Robert Scott. Sure, he’s only in about 5 scenes, but he sells every last second he’s on screen. He’s adorable, instantly lovable, and scary as crap (when he needs to be).
Though there’s more to this movie than just The Losers’ Club. You also have one of the most evil kids in all of fiction, Henry Bowers. This character got a huge upgrade thanks in part to Nicholas Hamilton’s performance. While the miniseries portrayed him in an over-the-top, borderline cartoonish way, this version shows him as an unstable child with major security issues. This kid has some clear, unchecked problems which is easy to see due to how the character is portrayed. That anger and fury can sometimes be hard to replicate by even grown actors, but Hamilton nails it. In fact, he’s probably twice as scary as Pennywise himself at times. How is that even possible?
Speaking of which, I think it’s finally time to talk about the titular clown ITself… get it? Yes, I’ll get off the stage now. Anyway, Pennywise the Dancing Clown is played by Bill Skarsgård, who has some giant shoes to fill (pun not intended) following Tim Curry’s iconic performance. So how does he do? Great! Honestly he has a pretty distinct and enjoyable portrayal of It that is several times scarier than the original. Skarsgård definitely achieved that menacing, unsettling, “get that thing away from me” quality in ways that Tim Curry just couldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, though, Curry’s version is still the more memorable version (for now), but Skarsgård really brought it as Pennywise to which I give him endless credit.
There are other characters in the movie as well — Bev’s dad, Billy’s dad, Eddie’s mom, three of Bowers’ goons, and a female bully named Greta — but all you need to know is that they all do great jobs. No real need to go much further.
I really had my doubts going into this movie, but It really surprised me. In hindsight, I should’ve known that with all the love the original book had that there was an excellent film to be made of it, but all well. I’m really glad I was wrong, because It is one of the most entertaining horror films of the past decade. No question. This was a solid adaptation/remake of the story that kept us all up at night and away from the sewers. Even if I don’t personally find it scary and there were a couple unnecessary characters, I was entertained in a very non-ironic way from beginning to end.
Now comes the question of if Andy Muschietti can do for the second half of the story what he just did for the first half. I’m not sure, but I can’t wait to find out!
- Anyone who has seen the 1990 miniseries and enjoyed it owes it to themselves to see this movie. It’s miles better, and the comedic value is actually balanced out with the Richie’s comments
- Same goes for those who have read and enjoyed the novel. Even though the date is different and a few things were inevitably cut-out for the film, this is way closer to the source material than the miniseries (I assume).
- If you hated the original miniseries, still give it a go to see an improved version. That sentiment does NOT go for those who hate the novel. If you hate the story, there’s simply nothing here for you.
- Horror movie fans should certainly see it if they haven’t already seen it 5 times in a row already. If you hate horror movies… eh, probably best to wait until it’s out on home video.
- In fact, most moviegoers over the age of 12 or so will be the target audience of the movie. Do not show this to coulrophobes or they’ll hate you for life. (You’ve been warned).
I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!