IT | Andy Muschietti | 2017 | USA | 2h 15min | Drama | Horror | Thriller
Like a demonic, shapeshifting clown popping his hideous head out of the sewers of Derry, a new adaptation of Stephen King’s epic novel It has arisen, 27 years after its last go-round onscreen (specifically, on the small screen, as a 1990 ABC miniseries), after going through various rewrites, multiple directors, including Cary Fuganaga of True Detective fame (who sadly, wasn’t allowed to direct the final project here), and what felt like an eternity in development hell. This time, only the childhood portion of the “Losers Club”'s decades-long struggle with Pennywise has been adapted, the film’s timeframe has been bumped up from the 50’s to the 80’s, which seems like the hot new thing post-Stranger Things (which shares an actor with It, even) and Andy Muschietti of Mama fame is the lucky one who ended up directing. The important thing here is, is It any good? Well, flaws aside, my answer to that question would have to be yes, but ironically enough, that result is due less to Pennywise’s presence here than just about any other aspect, to be honest…
We’re introduced to Pennywise (portrayed here by Stellan Skarsgård’s other son, Bill) in the film’s opening scene, where he lures 7 year-old “Georgie” to a sewer drain with promises of balloons, popcorn, and the boy’s lost sailboat, before baring his fangs (literally) and dragging him down in the depths to a particularly gruesome demise. In this scene in particular, Skarsgård puts in a memorable performance that’s somehow equal parts cheerful and predatorially creepy, and the idea that such an obviously evil figure could get away with both charming and preying upon the children of Derry for decades, like some sort of demonic Pied Piper, seems almost plausible due to the strength of his performance, which is unfortunate, since the film never lets the actor shine that much again.
Don’t get me wrong, as I did enjoy It as a whole, but I was still somewhat disappointed with its treatment of Pennywise; I mean, Skarsgård was already somewhat buried as an actor underneath the hideous clown makeup that accompanies the role, but Muschetti doesn’t do him any favors in further burying him and his various incarnations underneath a reliance on unnecessary special effects, repetitive, obnoxious jumpscares, and loud noises on the soundtrack to make sure you know that this is one of the scary parts. A lot of the moments in It that actually would’ve been creepier had they just been delivered with a lighter touch are grossly overblown instead (one scare involving a literally giant Pennywise popping out is pretty much just straight-up schlock), and the film’s prologue was the only time where it felt like Skarsgård just got to play Pennywise, before the annoying modern horror gimmicks began to get in the way of his performance, which, based off his acting in the opening scene, is a real missed opportunity. I mean, say what you will about the miniseries, but at least it let Tim Curry just PLAY Pennywise a lot more, and let him put his own stamp as on actor on the part.
That being said, not every “horrific” moment in this movie was a complete waste, as, while I was never actually scared by any scene here, I was mildly disturbed by some of the twisted, imaginative imagery that It packed (one scene involving a sink and an old haircut coming back to haunt a character was particularly messed up), which kept me entertained enough during some of the “scary” moments to keep them from being a total waste, and made decent use of the film’s R rating, an advantage it holds over the watered-down-for-TV content of the miniseries. And, what ultimately makes It worthwhile, despite its faults, is actually the various coming-of-age, innocense-lost dramas that the Losers Club experiences over the long, hard summer depicted in the film, whether it be Eddie discovering his mother has been feeding him placebo pills in order to make him believe that he’s chronically ill, Beverly simultaneously dealing with the difficulties of puberty, the peer pressure of being unfairly slut-shamed by both the children and the adults of the community, or the molesting advances of her father, who’s determined to keep her as his “little girl” for forever, or the way that Bill uses Pennywise’s illusions of Georgie in order to say goodbye to his memories of the real Georgie, and finally move on from his death, a detail that, hacky jumpscares aside, nicely dovetails the fantastical horrors of the film with real-life traumas in a much more elegant manner than a certain other 2017 horror movie (coughSplitcough).
Anyway, like I said before, It is not a perfect film; in addition to its over-the-top jumpscares and silly, computer-generated effects, it has the occasional bit of tonal whiplash, and is rather loose structurally, generally going from scene to scene rather haphazardly, with certain characters just floating (no pun intended) in and out of the story seemingly at random. But, all of that being said, it’s ultimately the film’s sense of heart and soul, the way it cares enough about its young characters to take the time to develop almost every one of them (even one of the bullies!), that goes beyond not just what most horror films attempt in terms of character development, but what just a lot of movies have in general, that redeems It, and makes it a worthwhile cinematic experience. Warts and all, this is a fundamentally good movie, and if you see it, then I think that… you’ll float too? I dunno, I just felt I had to shoehorn that into my review somewhere. Anyway, just go see It already!