Horror is a polarizing genre at the best of times, so a remake of an iconic classic doesn’t naturally fill you with confidence. As IT’s clever ad campaign grew, so did my anticipation of this modern reimagining of a Stephen King horror which I hold in great esteem. The end result is a wildly enjoyable ride that is its own beast in many respects, but when all is said and done, isn’t as creepy or unnerving as the original. But this version also addresses a few issues with Stephen King’s novel and omits certain parts entirely, to its merit. The end result is an enjoyable horror that has been made from choice parts and a new perspective more tailored to today’s youthful audiences.
For those who aren’t familiar with the original, it was a 1990 two part, made-for-TV movie starring Tim Curry. A group of kids experience nightmarish visions of a clown who surfaces every 27 years in their hometown of Derry to feast on its inhabitants. The story then shifts to the kids as 40-somethings who reluctantly return home to end the evil once and for all. This 2017 version (which spookily is released 27 years after the original) makes some crucial changes, namely that the kid’s story now takes up the entire duration of the film. Should IT prove to be profitable box-office draw (and I think that’s a dead-cert), then IT: Chapter 2 will continue the story on with the kids now as adults.
The story has shifted from the 1950s to the 1980s and that’s a good move for today’s audiences clued up on homage-heavy fodder like Stranger Things. This first film focuses entirely on the kid’s chapter and their confrontations with the demonic presence and that’s where its biggest success lies. The dynamic conjured up between Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer and Wyatt Oleff is sensational. It feels like you are watching an actual 80s film with comedy and genuine friendship at its core, thus keeping us firmly invested into their perilous plight.
Lieberher plays Bill Denbrough, who lost his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) in suspicious circumstances a year ago, and who pieces together the puzzle of his disappearance with the help of his friends – The Loser’s Club. Sophia Lillis hands in a great performance as Beverly and the two share a great central chemistry that keeps the story ticking over nicely. Lillis also has a lot of heavy dramatic work to deliver (given her character’s back-story), and she does exceptionally well here. Finn Wolfhard delivers the comedy in spades and is a joy to watch throughout, providing light comic relief and snappy dialogue that gleefully keeps you smiling.
Bill Skarsgård has the impossible job of following on from Tim Curry’s iconic portrayal of the clown. For me the definitive Pennywise is still easily Curry, who brought genuinely fright to the role. Skarsgård’s playing to a different script that is more visceral though. That is a good and a bad thing as the film progresses. He does very well as the creepy clown but my issues come from how director Andy Muschietti (Mama) handles the frights.
Muschietti plays his hand far too early in the film when we see Georgie get taken by Pennywise in the rain-soaked residential streets. He’s gone for a quick, sharp gore-scare to kick things off, with lots of blood to boot (and it’s quite disturbing in its own right) but it shows far too much of Pennywise far too soon. Every time he shows up onscreen, he’s scary in an in-your-face way, but his impact slowly diminishes and the film relies too heavily on jump scares. No matter who you are, if a balloon pops and a clown is running at you, you’ll feel trepidation but the original conjured up frights on many different levels, something I don’t feel this iteration of IT does.
The film also relies too heavily on CGI scares. Some work brilliantly – the headless corpse chasing Ben in the library, the bathroom scene caked in blood and my personal favourite, the painting that comes to life. But as the film goes on, the effects lessen the blow so when the final confrontation arrives there’s little there to make you feel uneasy. But again, Skarsgård can only play to the script and for his part, delivers a memorable, almost childlike clown who dances between loudly maniacal and quietly sinister with suitable verve.
It seems like an odd thing to say but I expected to be scared a lot more by IT. By contrast, Annabelle: Creation actually delivered far more disturbing imagery. But this is a story about childhood fears manifesting itself. If they come out a little tame, I suppose it can be explained away. In an age when the likes of The Walking Dead deliver TV scares to a very high standard, perhaps I was expecting too much here. But it’s a testament to the film that despite this set-back, IT is still a hugely enjoyable movie and I can’t wait to see a sequel. If the adult cast get the chemistry right like these kids have managed, then IT: Chapter 2 will be a must-see.
Cast: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff Director: Andy Muschietti Writer: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman Released By: Warner Bros Certificate: 15 Duration: 135 mins Release Date: 15th January 2018