Review: Stephen King's It

October 5, 2017
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When Stephen King’s It came out as a made-for-tv miniseries in 1990, every parent let their kid watch it because they though “it’s on TV; how bad could it be?”  I was 10 years old at the time and my parents had no problem with me staying up to check it out.  It wasn’t gory.  It wasn’t intense.  It wasn’t even all that mature.  What seared that movie into the brains of every ‘90s kid was Tim Curry and his performance as the demonic clown known as Pennywise.  Just like he did in everything part he ever played, Curry was amazing.  Despite the fact that it had a really confusing ending and didn’t really stick to the 1,000+ page book all that much, it was an instant classic that made every kid talking about it for months.  With that much success, you can imagine why Hollywood was terrified to attempt to remake it for cinemas.  Who would you get to play Pennywise?  What should it be rated?  How long could it be?  Do we still include the weirdest parts of the book?  Luckily Warner Bros had the balls to tackle this project and the end result is a true hallmark for horror.

For the last eight years we’ve been teased with news of this film coming out.  After several script attempts, falling out in casting, and, the final straw, director Cary Fukunaga (HBO’s True Detective…the good season) dropped out of the project, we all thought this was deader than Georgie after the first scene.  But, in what seemed to come out of nowhere, the project was announced it was shooting with a new cast, new Pennywise, new script and new director.  Andy Muschietti.  For everyone that was sad Fukunaga left the film, there was someone excited that Muschietti was taking over.  Sure, he has only done one other film but that one other film was Mama, which was a really scary human story that felt like a Guillermo Del Toro film.  This is a filmmaker who not only knows how to scare but knows how to emotionally clobber you and Stephen King’s It does a little bit of both.

There are several aspects that were shocking and focusing just on them might be the best approach.  First, the young cast that makes up The Losers Club is phenomenal.  Sure, you could make the argument that it feels too much like Netflix’s Stranger Things but since Stranger Things was so heavily influenced by Stephen King’s It to begin with, a free pass is given.  These kids, who are all around 15 years old, have the chemistry of life-long friends and the acting powers of seasoned veterans.  They are the heart and soul of this film and do an amazing job.  Second, Bill Skarsgard (Atomic Blonde) is an excellent Pennywise.  Never once does he try to imitate Tim Curry and does a truly unhinged and chilling performance all on his own.  Third, it’s far funnier than anyone was expecting.  Muschietti allowed these kids to improvise and it paid off.  There are just as many moments of levity as there are scares. 

This leads me to a final point that was shocking and a bit of a letdown; Stephen King’s It is far less scary than I was hoping for.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s scary but it’s far from terrifying.  When Muschietti made Mama he built breathless tension and crafted prolonged terrifying imagery but It relies heavily on startles and cheap jumps.  It’s effective for the most part but I was expecting to be horrified and that expectation was never realized.  However, where it lacks in horror it makes up for it in human drama.  There are very sincere performances that come from dark places that have nothing to do with demon clowns and when the climax of the film comes and those dark places are fought by The Losers Club, it’s almost tearjerking more than it’s scary.  

Like every good horror film, this will be controversial as to whether or not it’s scary; however, what will not be debated is whether or not this is a good film.  Stephen King’s It is fun in ways that most people wouldn’t have expected.  Many will avoid it simply because they have a fear of clowns which is a real shame because Pennywise is the villain but not why you enjoy the film.  This was made with nostalgia, friendship, heart, and pain.  It’s a true coming-of-age horror film the likes of which haven’t been seen by a mainstream film in a very long time.  I’m thrilled this was made and can’t wait till next fall when part two comes out and concludes the story.