Director: Andy Muschietti
Writers: Gary Dauberman, Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga
Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Nicholas Hamilton, Stephen Bogaert, Jackson Robert Scott and Bill Skarsgard
Synopsis: A group of bullied kids band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
Based off the novel by Stephen King, at least the first half, Pennywise the Clown is back to make us afraid of clowns again. Of course, most of us know the two-part TV movie with Tim Curry playing Pennywise, but while that version may have scared us with some uneasy visuals and Curry’s performances, this new version of It is here to be a little more faithful to the original source material. and add the real horror that was written by Stephen King himself.
To be fair, I hadn’t watched the TV movie in a long time, and I ended up watching some clips online. While some of it sticks, for the most part I didn’t end up remembering half of the things in it. Seeing that – and that this film was going to be more faithful – my judgment and now broken bias was going to be left at home. Granted, the trailers proved this version of It was going to crack up the horror to eleven, and this was going to have a movie budget, against a early 90s TV movie budget. Either way, do yourself the favor, and try not to compare the two versions since they are very, very different, but more importantly, you’ll miss out on a great movie.
Set in Derry, Maine in 1989, people – most kids – have gone missing by the dozens. The film starts off by showing us the much promoted disappearance of Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), the younger brother of Bill (Jaeden Lieberher). It is also were we are introduced to Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard) for the first time. We then jump forward a year, Bill holds on to hope that his younger brother is still alive, but we are now introduced to his closest friends; the always joking Richie (Finn Wolfhard), the germophobe Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Stan (Wyatt Oleff). The three eventually become friends with the new kid, whose obsessed with Derry’s history, Ben (Ray Taylor), the home-schooled Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and Beverly (Sophia Lillis).
They forge a friendship and call themselves The Losers Club. However, before they can try to enjoy their summer, they deal with bullies, lead by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), but also have to face their fears when Pennywise puts all of them on his radar. It then becomes a race against time for The Losers Club to defeat “It” before one of them disappears. Because everyone floats down there.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’m sure we all know someone that has seen the original It, or maybe even read the novel. Either way, Pennywise and The Losers Club have a following so this new version of It had a lot of eyes on it. Thankfully, it turned out great, because not only is It a great horror movie, it’s a great coming-of-age story with humor and heart to back it all up. That said, I applaud director Andy Muschietti and the writers in Gary Dauberman and Chase Palmer – Cary Fukunaga is also credited, since he was the original director and writer of the film, but dropped out due to creative difference – for being able to balance all the tones in the film and make it work for the film instead of making them work against it.
Next to the balancing act working, it’s the young cast that really makes It shine. Each of them having their moments to shine, and face their respected fears, but it’s the fact that we get to know them that makes us not only root for them, but also worry for them. Lieberher gets to shine the most as Bill, who is determined to find out what happened to Georgie and holding on faith that he’s still alive despite what people think. Lillis’ Beverly, personally, gets the more complicated and emotional arc as she seen as the town’s slut, but also the fact that she has to deal with her father, played by Stephen Bogaert, who makes uncomfortable advances toward her. Jeremy Ray Taylor’s Ben has probably one of the most realest arcs for a kid his age that involves Beverly.
Not everyone has the opportunity of being fleshed out unfortunately. Wyatt Oleff’s Stanley doesn’t really have too much going on other than being the Jewish kid who is about to have his bar mitzvah and wants to ignore everything. Finn Wolfhard’s Richie can sometimes come off as annoying and has a fear of clowns, but that fear doesn’t come up until after the group acknowledges that Pennywise exists. Jacobs’ Mike, obviously the only person of color, has his own problems especially with bully Henry Bowers. Finally, Jack Dylan Grazer does have his moments, but for me, his big moment comes near the end and has nothing to do with Pennywise.
However, the biggest drawn here is Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise. Bill, the youngest of the Skarsgard family, will probably become a household name with his performance here. We don’t see a hell of a lot of Pennywise, but just enough to know when he pops up, you better be scared – or at least unnerved. His introduction scenes with Georgie is disturbing from the get go as we can see him salivating which just adds that creepy layer to Pennywise that was, arguably missing from the previous version. Yes, Tim Curry’s Pennywise was creepy, but he was creepy when the character had to be, Skarsgard’s version is always creepy.
All in all, It is like I noted earlier, not only a great horror movie, but a great coming-of-age film. The young cast is great, and the best part is they actually act like kids, so when they’re put into a fearful and dangerous situation we want them to make it through and we see can the genuine fear they have. Not only that, their chemistry is top notch, I can believe they’re friends and they have a bond, and when they face Pennywise, it is something special.
Whether you prefer the 90s It or this version of It, there is no denying that Stephen King’s story has touched everyone. Everyone has their fears, and the question becomes will you face them head-on yourself? Or have someone there to face them down with you? This version does lend itself to be horror especially considering this has a movie budget opposed to a TV movie budget – and R-rating which they take full advantage of. Whatever the case, the cast – including Skarsgard’s Pennywise – and their chemistry together make It not only a worthy adaptation of Stephen King’s stories, but a great film.
4.5 out of 5