Running Time: 135 minutes
Written by: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Featuring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton and Jackson Robert Scott
Ben Hanscom: “Derry is not like any town I’ve been in before. People die or disappear, six times the national average. And that’s just grown ups. Kids are worse. Way, way worse.”
After a dreadful Summer at the US box office comes a movie that could redeem it somewhat as the prestige film season begins in earnest – that is the horror remake/adaptation of one of Stephen Kings most famous (and largest) novels, ‘It’ written in 1986, adapted once already as a television mini-series in 1990. Whilst the miniseries was set up in the present and told in flashbacks that featured the now infamous ‘Pennywise the Dancing Clown’ played with inimitable ferociousness by the great Tim Curry – leaving a mark on a generation as one of the most terrifying clowns in either TV or cinema – this new movie tracks slightly differently in tone as well as its narrative structure.
Originally set up at Warner Bros. with Cary Fukunaga as the both writer and director, after his huge success with the first season of HBO’s “True Detective” (2014 – present) he was the top choice, as well as Will Poulter as Pennywise this seemed like a slam-dunk. But as with many modern big budget films, or when studios have second thoughts Fukunaga left over differences, Poulter quickly followed suit, it looked like the project may be dead, but in stepped relative newcomer Andy Muschietti and Pennywise was recast with another gamble in the form of Bill Skarsgård. The challenge was always going to be how to condense a thousand page book into a possible two hour running time, but this I am happy to say has been solved in what must be one of the greater leaps of faith for a studio to make with unproven talents in front and behind the camera.
The plot has been split between the younger and older selves of the book with the frst film serving as a period piece set in the 1980s and if the sequel is to happen it will be set in modern times (2016) with a few possible flashbacks (apparently already filmed). The good news is that this film will already be enough of a hit for the sequel to be green lit and will be filmed early next year. The other piece of great news is that this movie stands on its own even if a sequel was never to be made with an ending that makes sense, but if you know the plot leaves a door open for one more visit to Derry.
“It” takes place in Derry, Maine in the summer of 1989, a group of outcast preteens known as “The Losers Club” fight against an immortal, shape-shifting entity responsible for the disappearance of dozens of children in their town, and are forced to confront their own personal demons in the process.
This is actually quite a unique film, particularly in the horror genre in that it has a large budget (compared to the cost of modern Horror movies), is based around children, but does not treat them as such, in fact they are for all intents and purposes the adults of the film – as well as all of this the film is aimed at an adult audience not the PG soaked one that has to be pandered to with only small amounts of violence, gore and coarse language. One other aspect of this film that I loved was the choices that each of the protagonists makes, they seem to be honest, as well as real in terms of the world they are inhabiting, something that is from the novel as well as the miniseries. If you have seen recent horror movies like “Annabelle: Creation” (2017) you will know about illogical, nonsensical decisions that are the inciting incidents that make absolutely no sense.
This film is well directed by Andy Muschietti, whose only other movie was the 2013 horror hit “Mama” produced by Guillermo del Toro based on his own short film. Here Muschietti must bring a well loved book to the screen with not only a sense of style, but an inexperienced cast as well as having one eye on the future, but always maintaining that this movie live in its own present. He has done an excellent job by marshaling his cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, who brings a fresh originality with his work on his South Korean movies that mix genres as well as acting and directing styles. The film is not without its tropes and this is probably as a result from a mix of screenwriters that have taken passes at Fukunaga’s original script to try and boost parts that the studio thought were appealing – luckily though this is a visual film with many thrilling elements to hide any narrative flaws, which do exist.
“It” is the very definition of an ensemble piece with a few characters that take more of the screen time than others, those being Jaeden Lieberher as Bill, Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben and Sophia Lillis as Beverly, all heroes to be sure. Within this group though it is newcomer Sophia Lillis who shines as the real center of the group, she plays her part as heroine, victim and sometime love interest of both Ben and Bill. Lillis has the unenviable job of being the only girl in the group as well as coming of age in a town full of children that make up stories about her with a home life that is full of possible molestation and of course a killer clown that by the end of the movie she comes face to face with, she is definitely someone to keep an eye on in the future, a star turn then for her in this film. On the other side of the coin there is Nicholas Hamilton as Henry Bowers the human protaganost and Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise the otherworldly villain who causes all of the mischief. This really is Skarsgård’s movie with him obviously having a great time bringing one of the more iconic villains to life and scaring anyone he comes across – if they do make another movie I look forward to his return, I just hope I don’t have to wait long.
Another aspect of this film that dovetails with a current resurgence is the fact that is in set in the 1980s (although barely as it is 1989) much like the recent amazing “Stranger Things” (2016 – present) and the disappointing “Atomic Blonde” (2017). The 1980s pedigree is clear with music from ‘The Cure’, ‘The Cult’ and ‘Anthrax’ as well as movies present like “Batman” (1989), Lethal Weapon 2” (1989) and “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: Dream Child” (1989). There are even jokes when Beverly discovers Ben listening to ‘New Kids on the Block’, and when they enter his bedroom a poster of the same – exceptionally funny. Of course the reason for the film to be set in the 1980s is that the next one will be twenty seven years later, which will be 2016 – I am assuming there will be some past references to make this workable – we shall have to wait and see.
This movie works extremely well on all levels, it works as a horror movie, a coming of age movie, a thriller and really a multitude of other genres as well, that is what is great about it, it also introduces a new crop of young actors as well the solidification of a visionary director in Andy Muschietti who I hope will direct the sequel. I can only assume that Cary Fukunaga will have no more to do with these movies as he has moved on but that is a shame as I can not help but think he is a large part of the success of this movie.
I recommend “It” to you if you love Stephen King, horror movies or just a good film; it looks great on the big screen with performances that really jump off the screen with scares as well as humor – if you are going to see one movie this month it should be this one.
“It” is out now on DVD & Blu-ray.