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The “It” Movie Review

If the staggering opening weekend box office for “It” is any indication, there are a lot of people out there who were haunted by Stephen King’s original novel, the Tim-Curry-starring mini-series, or both.

For me, it was the mini-series. I didn’t read the book until I was in high school, but I have vivid childhood memories of having to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. I would sprint across the hall and slam the door behind me. When I was done, I would stand there with my hand on the doorknob for what seemed like minutes, reluctant to open it and have to look down the staircase to the first floor. I had visions of a clown, emerging out of the darkness and leering up at me like Renfield in “Dracula.”

Frankly, the mini-series doesn’t hold up, but I’ve buried the lede long enough. Does director Andy Muschietti’s “It” impose the same scars as its previous iterations?

Actually, no. But that’s okay, because this new film is a blast.

Screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman do a great job pruning and re-structuring the novel, which took place during the 1950s and 80s, featuring the main characters both as kids and adults. This latest version moves the kids’ narrative up to the 80s and jettisons the adult storyline altogether. (Though it will most assuredly be headed to a multiplex near you very soon.)

Derry, Maine, has a long and dark history. “People disappear here at six times the national average,” we’re told. “And that’s just grown-ups. Kids are worse. Way worse.” After young Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) loses his brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), he and his friends discover that the various apparitions that haunt their small town are all linked to a shape-shifting, shark-toothed clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). This entity feeds on the fear of children before feeding on them…literally. Bill’s Losers’ Club wrestles with whether or not they should vanquish this evil and whether or not they can.

I love the atmosphere Muschietti sculpts. As in the book, there’s an indifference on the part of the grown-ups to what’s going on, almost as though they forget every time it happens. We see missing children flyers taped on top of one another. Adults turn a blind eye to Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his twisted bullying. And listen carefully whenever the television is on in the background. This menace has been in Derry for a long time, and it’s seeped into the very fabric of the town.

Save for a couple of hair-raising exceptions, “It” didn’t really frighten me. In an overhead shot, a gloved hand reaches from a storm drain for a poor boy as he tries to crawl to safety. As the bots in MST3K would say, that’s some good ol’ fashion nightmare fuel. But most of the scares work like jolts in a haunted house. You get a bit of a jump and then have a laugh. Fun if a bit cheap in the moment, but doesn’t linger. This is the part where I stress that fear is a really personal emotion, and if reactions at my opening day screening were any indication, some of those audience members didn’t sleep well that night. But yeah, this adaptation functions better as a coming-of-age adventure than as a horror film. Blood oaths, spitting contests, and constant ribbing. It nails the childhood camaraderie that you find in movies like “E.T.” and “Stand by Me.” (The latter is an adaptation of King’s “The Body.”)

Rarely have I seen young performances so natural on screen. The Losers’ Club is comprised of Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), a heavyset bookworm who’s new to Derry. There’s germaphobe Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Mike (Chosen Jacobs), a young man who might not be cut out for making tough decisions. And there’s Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), who’s getting ready for his bar mitzvah. That Stanley and Mike, an African American, get the least amount of development in this band of outsiders is troubling – Mike, in particular, as he basically disappears during the film’s middle stretch.

But the standouts for me were Finn Wolfhard as Richie and Sophia Lillis as Beverly. Fans of “Stranger Things” will recognize Wolfhard from that hit Netflix series. Here, he’s the trash-talking comedian of the group, constantly trying to impress upon his friends the size of his clown shoes – if you catch my drift – as young boys (and older ones, let’s be honest) are wont to do. The film can be uproarious, but there’s an honesty to the humor that doesn’t derail the tone.

Lillis’s Bev has been battling monsters since long before the clown reared its powdered white head. After she comes home from the drugstore with tampons, her father smells her hair and asks if she’s still his little girl. Though the film is very entertaining, it clearly retains some of the more disturbing elements from King’s novel. Other than, ya know, child murders. Pennywise latches on to her fear of adulthood and her father. In one of the film’s more visceral moments, a geyser of blood erupts from her bathroom sink, covering Bev and the walls.

The "It" Movie Review

I still prefer Curry’s Pennywise. Hell, the clown might be the least scary part of this new film. And maybe that’s by design, because some of these adults – yeesh! Curry was a character in his own right, someone that would have an insidious rapport with the kids. Bill Skarsgård’s creation is much more the faceless monster in the closet. I do appreciate that he took the role in a different direction. His Pennywise feels like something doing an impression of a human, but it hasn’t quite got it down. The way he moves and the way he talks—words don’t sit naturally in his mouth. CG is sometimes implemented too much to bolster his performance, but there are some great, subtle uses of it as well. Every now and then his eyes just…misalign. Very unsettling. (Though it also reminded me of my Chihuahua. She’s got the same problem. Less unsettling.)

So would “It” be a stronger film if it hit our fear center with more force? Sure! But that’s not to detract from all the things it gets right. Great atmosphere, characters you can get behind, and uniformly strong performances (from kids, no less). It’s been a while since we had a horror movie or thriller that played like a big summer blockbuster. No wonder it’s devouring the box office. It’s part of what makes the communal theater experience so vital. See it with as big a crowd as you can find. There are lots of laughs, lots of cheers, some screams, and even a few tears.

Have you seen “It?” What did you think? And what films scared you as a child?

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Garrett is an entertainment professional living in the Los Angeles area. In his free time, he's a shark hunter, Jedi Knight, Kaiju wrangler and dog owner. He also edits and contributes to movie discussions at 3byThree.

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7 thoughts on “The “It” Movie Review

  1. My wife and I saw It last Friday (she’s a big fan of the book, I have some fond memories of the mini-series). I’m with you on Curry v. Skarsgaard. Curry played Pennywise as a singular monster and I think that made his performance much more memorable whereas Skarsgaard played it as one particular face of a shapeshifting alien.

    They’re definitely cashing in on the Stranger Things nostgia wagon (which is fine by me). I thought the scene with the Leper was by far the best in the movie with the Judith in the office scene coming in a close second. Those moments really played on childhood fears (that creepy house down the steeet, the weird picture in your grandmas basement).

    I will say I thought the Georgie death wouldve been much more effective if they’d used restraint. I get they wanted to announce ‘this is a hard R rated movie’ but its the one place where the mini-series has anything on the movie. Even if it was due to budget/medium constraints they were effective with a less is more approach.

    Overall though I also enjoyed the movie (and your review).

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    • With regard to Stranger Things, IT has got to be one of the most fortuitous releases in modern movies. A series that is heavily indebted to IT now has this latest adaptation riding its coattails to enormous success.

      In most cases, I’d be with you on restraint in movies. Having said that, I really like what they did with Georige’s death. I thought it was a great statement to open the film. “This is what can happen in this movie. All bets are off!” The mini-series does handle it beautifully as well. There’s that cross-fade from the white of the clown’s face to the white flowers on Georige’s coffin at his funeral.

      Thanks for reading! Glad you enjoyed the review (and film).

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    • InMD,
      Um. Stranger Things nostalgia wagon? That’d be rich, if they weren’t making IT before Stranger things was even in development.
      … something something about director killing himself…
      IT’s been in development hell for a while…

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  2. I still haven’t seen it, but I saw the miniseries when it came out (I think I was a junior or senior in high school), and I read the book relatively recently (maybe in the last 2 years?). The miniseries, in my view, was better than the book. Whatever the book had going for it, I can’t forgive the sex scene at the end, which strikes me as a (disturbed) adolescent’s gang rape fantasy.

    I do like the idea of clown being the bad guy or the horror monster. I hate clowns and want to put them in their place. But….both the book and the miniseries kind of abandon the whole clown thing. It turns out, Pennywise is really something like a spider? It’s lived in the area covered by the town for eons, but it has only now just laid eggs that are going to give birth to other monsters? I can’t sign on to that. It’s a weakness in much of King’s horror fiction (or what I’ve read of it). He can set up the story, but he lacks the ability to execute a good ending consistent with the setup. (And yet, I keep coming back for more and reading other things he writes.)

    And what films scared you as a child?

    I’m not sure. I saw “The Day After” in my mid-twenties, and that would have scared me when it came out ca. 1983, if my mom had let me watch it. (Heck, it scared me in ca. 2002.) While this isn’t a film–and while I was more pre-adolescent than a child when I read it–the Book of Revelations really scared me.

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    • The child orgy in the book is truly bizarre and disturbing. “Fantasy” is the word for it.

      As much as I love King’s writing, his mythologies and world-building can indeed be very messy. I’ll be interested to see what changes, if any, they make to tidy up IT in the next film.

      I’ve never seen The Day After, but I’ll have to check it out.

      Thanks for reading!

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    • Yes. The idea is it is supposed to be an alien, trying to look like what scares us. Clowns just happen to be scary things. In this case, the Tim Curry miniseries is less authentic to the book.

      As to why its not succeeding? Do you by some chance remember the turtle? It’s plans are actively being fucked with by a Native American spirit. (It’s just not succeeding in killing the damn monster, simply resisting it’s final plan for Earth).

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