‘It’ (2017) Puts Heart Before Scares – and Is Better for It

It
Rating: R
Runtime: 2 hours 15 minutes
Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, and Jeremy Ray Taylor


Coming off the cultural phenomenon that is Stranger Things, It (2017), the latest on-screen adaptation of prolific writer Stephen King’s beloved horror novel of the same name, cashes in on the high-demand 80’s nostalgia trend while managing to be scary, endearing, and most importantly, heartfelt.

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Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) ambushes Beverly (Sophia Lillis) in her bathroom

For anyone unfamiliar with the Stephen King novel or the 1990 TV mini-series, It follows a group of a adolescent misfits who call themselves the “Losers’ Club” shortly after one member’s little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), is preyed upon by a malevolent, demonic clown named Pennywise who feeds off the fear of children. Together, they must all confront and overcome their deepest fears in order to defeat Pennywise before he can make them all “float too.” I have been looking forward to this incarnation of It since the first images of Pennywise the clown over a year ago. While many fans of the story were perfectly satisfied with the 1990 TV mini-series with Tim Curry playing the homicidal clown, the campy 1990 adaptation never particularly resonated with me. The still images of Bill Skarsgård as the iconic clown however peaked my interest and hinted at a more serious, eventful take on the character and having now seen the movie, my expectations of a compellingly creepy Pennywise have been met and more.

Skarsgård does for Pennywise what Heath Ledger did for the Joker. He’s mesmerizing in every scene he’s in, so much so that I found myself looking forward to his appearances throughout the film instead of dreading them, which could be seen as a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. By the end of the film, I was hungry for more Pennywise, specifically in scenes where he’s free to engage in dialogue with the kids. The majority of Pennywise’s scenes are of him jumping out at or lunging at one of the kids, and those are effectively scary, but Skarsgård really shines in the handful of prolonged exchanges he has with certain characters (the storm drain scene with Georgie at the beginning of the film, a close encounter with Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) in an old burned down house). Seriously, Skarsgård performance alone is worth the price of admission. However, an amazing Pennywise performance alone does not a great film make, and luckily this film has a lot more going for it.

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The Losers’ Club confronts Pennywise in his sewer lair

The kids of It could not have been better cast, directed, or performed by their respective actor/actress. Each member of the Losers’ Club – Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stanley (Wyatt) – never miss a beat with their performances. Everyone gets their time to shine and they’re all great, but really there are two characters that I feel stood out: Sophia Lillis as Beverly and Finn Wolfhard (of Stranger Things fame) as Richie. Sophia Lillis organically conveys confidence, vulnerability, and psychological torment all at the same time, which makes sense considering the fact her home-life in the film is by far worse than that of any of the other Losers, save for maybe Mike (the only black kid in their all-white town). Like in the novel, Lillis’ Beverly is the cohesive agent keeping all the main characters together, no matter how dire the situations get. Here Lillis lays the foundation for what looks like a very promising acting career. While having a significantly smaller role than Lillis, Finn Wolfhard steals his scenes as the wisecracking Richie. Many critics and fans of Stranger Things, another horror story centered on a group of kids against a malevolent being, pointed out Wolfhard has roles in both projects. Now I don’t know what he gets to do on that show in terms of acting presence, but in It, Wolfhard commands the screen like a seasoned movie star. We never get a proper look at his home life, and his character is essentially nothing more than comic relief, but his presence is integral to the heart of the film nonetheless.

If there was one quality that best encapsulates the 2017 It, it’s its heart. As creepy as Pennywise is and how violent the film can get, It never loses it’s heart. Everyone from the talented cast to the on-point direction of indie horror director Andy Muschietti (who previously directed Mama (2013) and the horror short that inspired it) to ‘True Detective’ season 1 creative mind Cary Fukunaga and his well-written script, all coalesce to make a deeply satisfying event film that will undoubtedly be added to the canon of classic horror in years to come.

9/10

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