Hot Take: A blend of horror and a coming-of-age story that allows you to forget, at times, that you’re watching a horror movie, only to bring you right back to the frights of the classic King tale.
I watched Stephen King’s It when I was 14. The two-part four-hour miniseries frightened the hell out of me. I never liked clowns and It did our relationship no favors. Even with the fright factor, the miniseries was one of my favorite Stephen King adaptations. I’m not much of a horror fan but, for some reason, the King brand of horror is right up my alley. Needless to say, the release of It was wildly anticipated by this guy. Fortunately, the newest version — focused on the kids-only chapter of the novel and miniseries with a different, more CGI-aware horror and an R-rated vulgarity not allowed for broadcast TV — while different, is in most ways better than the 1990 version and lived up to lofty expectations.
The young heroes of It are members of the self-proclaimed “Loser’s Club” living in the town of Derry in 1988. The film starts out with a chilling scene where Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) makes his 7-year-old brother Georgie a sailboat made out of notebook paper and wax for Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) to float in the puddles in the rain outside. As Georgie plays with his “boat”, it gets away from him and goes down a sewage drain. Instantly, we’re introduced to Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), the nemesis of It. Pennywise terrifyingly talks to Georgie asking him if he’d like to come join him in the sewer where him and the circus away to. Once Georgie decides to leave, Pennywise offers him his “boat” back. When Georgie grabs it, Pennywise bites off his arm and drags him into the sewer. Fast forward to the end of the 1989 school year as we meet the rest of the Loser’s Club. There’s Richie (Finn Wolfhard), the foul mouthed motor mouth, Stan (Wyatt Oleff), the germaphobic Jewish worrywart, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazier), the hypochondriac, Mike (Chosen Jacobs), the homeschooled African American kid, Beverly (Sophia Lillis), the rumored school slut and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the overweight new kid. The eclectic group of misfits are a cross between the band of boys in Stand By Me (another Stephen King adaptation) and The Sandlot. That’s not to discount the role the lone female Beverly plays in the group but, despite the adolescent sexual overtones, she’s essentially one of the boys… for the most part.
Bill believes his brother is only missing and not dead while no one in his group is willing to broach the possibility. With the summer in full swing, the group has two missions: (1) Explore the Barrens for Bill’s missing brother and (2) avoid the town bullies led by Henry Bowers. The group starts out as just Bill, Richie, Stan and Eddie but as they cross paths with the others, usually due to a run-in with Henry, the group expands. One by one, the group, when alone, gets visited and terrorized by their worst fears brought on by Pennywise. As they investigate the town’s dark history, they find out the “missing” children and adults happen on a 27-year cycle.
As this is a “Spoiler Free” zone, it’s hard to expand much more on the film. At it’s core, It is a horror film but the “coming of age” aspect of the Loser’s Club and the lack of subtlty of the main characters brings a different vibe to this version of It. While it still leaves out some of the most controversial moments of the original material, this version of It shows a much more raw side of the group. While the miniseries gave the impression that the arrival of Pennywise was the reason the adult characters experienced an innocence lost, there’s the feeling in this version that there wasn’t much innocence left amongst the group. The latest cinematic version is still watered down from the book as the print version of Henry might be even more cruel than his big screen counterpart and there was that orgy scene in the book that has yet to make it to the big screen. Henry is still pretty sadistic and I think we’re all better off without the orgy scene, so these changes/omissions are welcome.
It delivers one of the best cinematic horror experiences in recent memory. In the last 21 months, only 2016’s The Witch is in the same category. In addition, the filmmakers set up a sequel perfectly although the original miniseries already showed there was a huge benefit in not trying to tell the story in an even more truncated time frame than the 1,138-page novel. There’s a lot of meat on the bone for the second chapter but that’s not to say the first chapter isn’t loaded, too. The film packs a lot into the 2 hour and 15 minute timeframe. Director Andy Muschietti (Mama) seemingly handled the transition away from Cary Funkunaga (one of the script’s co-writers and the original director) and is already eyeing the inevitable sequel due out in 2019. As scared as hell of both the original made-for-TV version and the cinematic version I was, the second chapter of It will be one of the most anticipated films of 2019 for myself and, based on the box office, many others will share the same sentiment.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Perfect Casting
The kids of It are cast perfectly. They all nail their parts and thanks to that, it’s that much easier to invest in the storyline and adds to the fright.
- Send In the Clown!
This version of Pennywise has a different look and feel than the original but both, in their own very different way, have a way of frightening the hell out of you. Then again, it doesn’t take much when you thrown on clown make-up.
- Good Decisions
They could have went overboard in some cases, rushed the story or threw in that poorly conceived orgy scene but the decision makers made the right calls and It benefitted immensely from the decisions.