by Kevin Muller
Many people don’t know, but the number 27 and the release of the new film, “IT”, go hand in hand. In the novel, Pennywise, the murderous clown, emerges every 27 years. Secondly, it has been 27 years since the television adaptation of the novel where Tim Curry played Pennywise was released. Finally, the new Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgard, is 27 as the new film drops. All these are interesting and cool coincidences, but does the new adaptation of the famous Stephen King novel succeed? It has advantages that the television movie didn’t have: production value, gore, and the ability for the characters to talk like real thirteen year olds, who drop swear words like they are going out of style.
In Derry, children are starting to disappear at an alarming rate. One of these unfortunate youngsters is George, or Georgie Denbrough. He encounters the clown when his paper boat, made by his brother Bill, falls down the drain. After a brief exchange of dialogue, that is chill inducing, he is pulled into the sewer and is the new missing child of Derry. Bill, who struggles with a stutter, has vowed to find his little brother, who has been missing for over a year. His friends Eddie, Stan, and Richie, all want to say the obvious, but agree to spend the summer of 1989 searching for any trace of life. Soon after, they are joined by the misunderstood, but tough Beverly Marsh, the token Black kid Mike, and the new kid in town, Ben. Ben, while overweight, has immersed himself in the history of Derry, where he finds out that something is wrong with the town. Every 27 years, terrible acts of violence, that mostly happen to children, start and behind it all is a clown that they all have had their individual encounters with throughout the film. Together, they must face their own fears, which the clown uses against them, get through adolescence, and figure out how to defeat Pennywise.
The killer clown is the big sell to this film. Who can blame them since Skarsgard is absolutely terrifying as the villain of the story, more on him later. Anyone who read the novel understands that the relationship between the seven kids, who dub themselves “The Loser’s Club,” is what could make or break this film. No need to worry, since all the performances work as a whole and individually, even though some aren’t written as strongly as others. The only one who seems to be the weakest of them all is Mike, played by Chosen Jacobs. Jacobs, blends nicely with the kids and gives a worthy performance, but seems like a side character in all the madness. His character does grow into something bigger, when the story shifts to the adults, so it may be better to judge him as a whole when the second part comes out. Finn Wolfhard, who plays Mike, on Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” completely goes against that character as Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier. Wolfhard, really benefits from the R rating that makes him live up to the nickname. He provides many great one liners and keeps the humor in a movie that is very sinister and evil. The butt of most his jokes is Eddie, who is a mama’s boy germaphobe. Jack Dylan Grazer is absolutely fantastic in the role, expressing his anxiety through rapid speech. Alone, and with Wolfhard, he is really quite funny at points. Jeremy Ray Taylor gives Ben just amount of underdog heart that the character needs. Though it is Ben’s love interest that provides such an amazing performance. Sophia Lillis is the perfect Beverly Marsh. Even though she is the only girl in the group, she has the biggest balls out of all of them. She is brave, yet vulnerable, gentle, but vicious, when it calls for it. She is everything that King wrote, and everything that the 1990 version failed to show. Lillis perfectly sets up a character that the adult version, cough….Jessica Chastain…cough, can work off of perfectly.
Director Andy Muschietti, whose last film was the 2013 “Mama,” definitely isn’t messing around here. He fought for the ‘R’ rating and takes full advantage of it. The film is very unapologetic about the violence. The first two acts of this film are the definition of a perfect set up for a horror movie. Pennywise is rarely in it, but his presence is felt throughout the town of Derry. The quick flashes of him doing extremely disturbing things is more effecting than when he fully appears near the end of the movie. Muschietti toys with the audience using his evil clown to perfectly plant the seeds of fear. The director nicely updates the fears of his young cast into something new. See, King wrote the novel for his own desire to have classic movie monsters all in the same book. Each of his characters were afraid of the Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Mummy. Since this movie has been moved to the 1980’s, the writers had to update what got under the each of the kid’s skins. The updated fears are a lot more terrifying since they reflect the personal fears of each child. It is a great way to show character development and a chance to expand on those fears for the adult story. Stan, the Jewish friend, has a fear of a painting in his father’s office and, of course, Pennywise turns into the image of that painting. It is a very rational fear that is done well through the performance of Wyatt Oleff. Muschietti’s decision to also change up Bill’s journey was also quite effective. It is his rite of passage to accept the inevitable and actor Jaeden Lieberher does a fantastic job.
All these metaphors, character development, direction analysis, and writing choices, are all fine and dandy, but the main interest to any reader is the clown. Skarsgard really dove into this character. Physically, you don’t see any trace of the actor in the performance. Much of the performance is physical and he is very animalistic in the way he attacks and taunts his victims. His conversation with Georgie is where you see the true power of Pennywise. Sure, he can shape shift, jump, tear, bite, and twist his body into many different shapes, but his ability to gain your trust, through a smile, is what really sells the character. For Pennywise, that is the game and he loves playing it. Much of that seduction is lost as the film progresses. Still, you feel the fear these kids experience whenever they have an encounter with this beast. When he haunts them one by one, instead of as a group, is where Skarsgard shines. His eyes twist around like a chameleon, which isn’t a special effect, but a hidden talent that the actor had, and his speech is high pitched and taunting. This is a Pennywise that you can definitely see causing an unshakable fear in someone. It validates Stan’s decision, which will be in second half of the story. For such a large stature, Skarsgard is lanky and agile in the way that he moves, which makes it even more terrifying. You will be thinking about a lot of the imagery, some aided by special effects, that you witness way after the film is done. All hats off to Mr. Skarsgard and it will be very interesting to see how he messes with the adult characters in Chapter 2.
“IT” is an achievement in a genre that so often pumps out garbage. It is a film with true horror both through the use of gore and psychology. The film is perfectly cast, adapted, and has one hell of a villain. Muschietti knows how to perfectly build suspense and horror so well through the use of imagery. Now, if he can pull off what the 1990 version couldn’t and give us a satisfying adult version, he will really be the new IT kid of horror.
I am giving IT a 4 out of 5 Hairpieces!