James Rosario is a writer, filmmaker, and musician based in the Asheville, NC area. His record label, Bigger Boat Records, releases...
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Reviewed by James Rosario on October 2, 2017
How does It compare to the 1990 miniseries? That’s what everyone wants to know. Well, it’s better, there’s no doubt about that, but it does suffer some of the same setbacks as the old TV movie (more on that in a sec). The acting is great, the scares are decent, but it shows too much. I’m not advocating for Muschietti to have treated Pennywise like Spielberg’s Jaws, but giving him a bit less screen time might have enhanced his mystery. I’m probably nitpicking that last point, so I’ll leave it there and get on to my real gripe.
The movie’s main problem—and this is true for the 1990 version too—is that it tries to cram an 1,100-page novel into a feature film. Technically two feature films, as we’ve come to find out, but even that won’t be enough. Stephen King’s 1986 book is huge. It’s dense, complicated, layered, and most importantly, because of these things, it all makes sense. It’s detailed, you see, and without all the details, the story, and especially the motivations, can very easily get muddled.
The first half of the film is all set-up. There’s something making kids disappear, and a group of friends decide to do something about it. The problem lies in how we get to their decision. They all experience something strange and horrifying, just like in the book, but the difference is that, instead of taking it’s time and making each encounter important, they’re all crammed together haphazardly. It’s boom, Stan sees something. Boom, Mike sees something. Boom, Ben sees something, and on and on until everyone has been indoctrinated.
I’m not one of those “Oh, the book was so much better” kinds of people, but in the novel, each of these episodes has weight. They were afforded enough pages to make them important. Derry’s history (the town in Maine where the film takes place) is also largely left out. This is a critical component of what makes the book so effective. That this creature has been lurking for at least as long as the area’s recorded history is important to plot. Again, this isn’t the book, so I shouldn’t make comparisons, but it’s hard not to. If the film’s box office receipts are any indication, most moviegoers are unconcerned with this point anyway.
On a side note, I was talking about this with my friend Leif the other day when it was brought up that maybe this project would have been better suited as a Netflix or Hulu miniseries. The town’s backstory could be properly fleshed out, and the character development wouldn’t need to be so rushed. Just a thought. Leif then mentioned that he’d like to see what the Lifetime Network could have done with it. I must say that I agree.
The film’s first half is rushed, plain and simple. The second half shines, though. With all that set-up out of the way, we can get down to the story, which is just as much about how kids handle everyday problems (navigating relationships, bullying, abuse, etc.) as it is about a killer clown. From the slide projector scene on, we’ve got ourselves a good old-fashioned horror movie. As the danger grows, so does the bravery. By the end, we have Richie (Finn Wolfhard) defiantly declaring, “…and now I’m gonna have to kill this fucking clown.” I nearly applauded.
There are some great moments of genuine suspense and terror to be had—with heavy doses of Evil Dead, The Shining, and perhaps most fun of all, The Gate (1987)—which is a lot more than most modern “horror” movies can rightly claim, but it’s the cast that I’m most impressed with.
From top to bottom, I can’t find much fault. Right or wrong, Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise is doomed to be judged against Tim Curry’s performance from 1990 (Curry will win), but if you take that out of the equation, Skarsgård is great. The central cast is all children (with Wolfhard, Jaeden Lieberher, Wyatt Olef, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, and Jack Dylan Grazer as the “Losers Club," and Nicholas Hamilton, Owen Teague, Logan Thompson, and Jake Sims as their sadistic bullies), and they bring it. They click as a group, are relatable, funny, at times terrifying, and they have the chops to pull off some difficult stuff. In short, I believe them when they’re scared, I believe them when they’re defiant, and if I may make a prediction, I believe they will do better than their adult counterparts will in two years when the sequel comes out. There are a few potential future stars here.
I liked It. I had a hell of a time at the movies, and there’s no arguing with that. I could go on all day about what it could have been, but I’ll let someone else go deeper into depth on that one (and many no doubt will). If you want a good popcorn movie with some good scares, by all means, It will fit the bill just fine.
Oh shit, I almost forgot to mention the soundtrack. You don’t hear Anthrax in a movie very often. Killer.
It is currently playing at local Asheville theaters.
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