Although many of us hold Tim Curry’s Pennywise from the 90’s It adaptation in our hearts and minds as an absolutely terrifying villain, if you rewatch that original TV movie now, you will see a couple things you didn’t notice when you first watched it. One, although Curry OWNS the movie, he isn’t in it that much, and he plays Pennywise as more of a goof than a demon, which worked really well at the time, but over time, hasn’t aged so well. The other thing you will notice is that the movie isn’t that good. Well, I seemingly wasn’t the only one who felt that way, as the new R-rated, proper version of IT just hit the theaters a few days ago. Will IT forever change horror movies? Probably not. But does IT get right what IT sets out to do? Hell yes. Pennywise gets redefined, the kid cast is phenomenal and radiate genuine “kid chemistry”, and the general story gets told quite closely to the original book by horror master Stephen King.
A good buddy of mine (and fellow writer) said it best:
It is more of a fun house than a haunted house.
But in the end, there is nothing wrong with that. And it still has creepy moments galore (or downright terrifying moments if you have coulrophobia).
Now onto my spoiler-free review because no one should ruin movies for anyone, ever.
The basic premise behind IT is one most people already know, either from the book or the original TV movie. A creature (the titular IT) feeds off children, literally, and kids taste better when they are afraid. Scaring a kid is like tenderizing a steak to Pennywise. He is ageless and comes back to Derry every 27 years, does his thing, and then bounces and hibernates for a bit, only to come back again.
In the movie and story, our introduction to IT is through a sewer interaction with a young boy named Georgie. From the minute Pennywise comes on-screen, there is a palpable sense of dread. From the eyes that tend to stare in different directions, to the Brooklyn-esque cartoony quality to the voice, all aspects are nailed here by young actor Bill Skarsgard (best known for his stint on the Netflix show, Hemlock Grove, but the same Skarsgard as all the other famous Skarsgard's). Now that family has TALENT.
One little detail I feel has been missed in a lot of reviews, in this remake Pennywise drools when he talks to kids. Not to be scary, but because talking to these kids and scaring them literally makes him hungry. It is a very subtle touch but one that adds miles of depth and creepiness to the character, and makes him more than a one-note villain.
From that sewer scene forth, IT shows up, finds the LOSER club, and makes it his mission to drive them all so insane with fear that they are the tastiest snacks he has ever had.
As you can imagine, the kids rally together and fight against this beast to their utmost ability, which brings me to the second part of the review.
The Kid Cast
Unless you somehow have never seen Stand By Me, this movie immediately evokes the same feelings of that movie. A squad of misunderstood kids band together for a journey that will both mature and forever change their lives, while cementing their bond of friendship. It is hard at times not to think of Stand By Me when you watch IT, and that is by no means an insult. The kids in Stand By Me were remarkable, and the same can be said about the group of kid actors they assembled for this movie. As far as casting kids who seem and act and talk like kids, no movie has come close to IT. These ARE kids, and at no point does it feel like they are actors spitting pre-written lines written by adults.
Honestly, the kids are one of the best aspects of the movie, because you feel for them all in different ways, and though they are all “kids” they have very distinct personalities.
Although the Pennywise scenes steal the show, the scenes with these kids are the glue that connects those scenes, and these kids are unreal at evoking believable emotion.
Most noticeably, Finn Wolfhard (the most heavy metal name of all time and the kid from Stranger Things) really rocks as Richie Tozier. We all knew (or know) a Richie Tozier. The kid who is always making jokes about banging your Mom or how big his dick is even though he is a kid. Truth is, I WAS Richie Tozier growing up, and it was nice to see that so properly represented on film. Kids say FUCK. The IT movie knows that and is all the more believable for it.
Also, Sophia Lillis who plays Beverly is bound for huge things. Of all the presences on the screen, she is truly the one element that keeps the whole story grounded in reality (the scenes between her and her “Dad” are creepier than the clown scenes), but it’s not just those two. Each kid brings something unique to the table here, and how often can you say a kid ensemble kept your interest post Goonies? Not much, I know, but IT nails that, which is important because it IS a story about loyalty, friendship, and being forced to mature whether you like it or not.
Like I have already said, this IS Pennywise’s movie (whereas he was featured so few times in original) and there are some genuinely scary moments in the film that will sit with you after you see it. Moments that we never saw before (the Leper being one of my favorites here) finally made the cut for fans of the book, and some of the more dated monsters (wolfman, for example) get replaced. I will not ruin any of Pennywise’s cruel tricks, but from zombies to bullies, if something scared you as a child, it is well represented here.
By the way, I won't say much about the bullies or the parents in this flick, but I will tell you Pennywise is not the only scary, fucked up thing in Derry. Henry Bowers, in particular, will have you cringing with disgust, even after you figure out his home life isn’t so good.
That was another element of IT that worked really well, the kids had no respite from the creature or bullies or their home lives. The parents are all fucked up on their own and seem to, in their own ways, be as much of a threat to these kids as IT is, so you get this feeling that these kids, the LOSER club, really do only have one option and that is to take down IT, and to do it together.
I have heard people say IT is Stand By Me mixed with Stranger Things, and that isn’t wrong (and is totally a compliment). The kids have genuine chemistry and act like kids, and they are the only ones who have the ability to band together and actually do something about IT.
I won’t lie, there some really funny moments in the film as well. I shan't ruin them, but this film takes place in the 80’s and there MAY BE a New Kids on the Block reference or two that will make any child of the 80’s laugh out loud.
You know, at the end of the day, we are all suckers for a good underdog story, and that is just what this is. A group of ostracized loners who only have each other have to team up to take down an ancient evil because everyone else is too blind to see it or admit something is off. It (the movie) is The Goonies with a Monster chasing after them. And the monster, in this case, can take any shape or form (though it prefers Pennywise because who isn’t afraid of a dead-eyed clown who drools?) and is utterly relentless.
While the movie doesn’t touch on the true backstory of It much, it hints that IT is ageless and has existed as long as Derry has, and I am hoping the sequel gets more into that aspect of it. Where is IT really from? Why kids? Why has no one else in the world stood up and been like “Yo, Derry is fucked up, we need to send in the National Guard, like 8 kids die there a week”. Hell, even the police in Derry are bullies (as you will see when you meet bully Henry Bowers Dad), so really, you have a whole town under a dark cloud, and maybe once that cloud gets lifted the citizens will wake up and become a bit more humane, too.
Well, we all know there will be a sequel that focuses on the adult half of the IT story, and though I genuinely enjoyed this ride, I do have my reservations about the sequel.
Why, you ask?
Well, the greatest scares of the book have already been represented (and done justice), and the adult side of the story just isn’t as engrossing as the kid’s version (which is obviously why King wrote the two timelines interconnecting when he wrote the book) so now that all the good marrow has been sucked from the bone, what is left to chew on for part two?
For now, I won’t worry, as I just finished watching one and had a hell of a good time. The hype machine may have been a little overclocked for this one, but IT certainly doesn’t bore or disappoint and IT about as good as mainstream horror gets these days.
Now let’s just hope it's (IT’s) record-breaking opening night will set the tone for more, creepy. R-rated horror in the future.
Truth is, this stuff is fun as hell. Horror movies are like roller coaster rides. We go on them deliberately to be scared and feel adrenaline. And though IT may not be the greatest horror film ever made, between the child cast and true feral feeling we get from Pennywise, they hit all the marks they needed to to finally do IT some justice.
No offense to the late Tim Curry, who was, in fact, the shit.
IT’s Overall Scoreboard
Pennywise is scary as hell and steals the show
Kid cast is best Stephen King “kid movie cast” since Stand By Me
Decent pacing and good writing keep story moving along
Satisfying conclusion to part one
Didn’t have “kid orgy” from Book (phew)
Some aspects of story overlooked (like how the weapons worked because the kid’s “believed”)
Parts of ending left a little vague (Derry not freaked out that suddenly the sewers are full of all the dead kids who were missing?)
A Tad bit long (but you hardly notice)
Didn’t have kid orgy from book (hahaha)
Overall Grade out of 100: 88
IT is an overall great ride for horror movie fans and Stephen King fans alike, and maybe with The Mist movie and now this, King’s work is going to start finally getting the film treatments they deserve.