Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Cary Fukunaga, Chase Palmer, Gary Dauberman
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Chosen Jacobs, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Oleff
What is it all about?
It begins with the murder of a child, George Denbrough, in a small town’s local storm drain, in the fall of 1988. One year later, in the summer of 1989, Georgie’s older brother and his group of friends begin a search for the killer, eventually discovering the murder was committed by an evil entity. The film is based on Stephen King’s 1986 horror novel of the same name!
Its amazing that the six of us at HCF who have mammoth of reviews to do, sat around on Wednesday night and I just casually mentioned “Who is doing IT?”, and we all gave a bewildering look. Just for that brief moment, I imagined a red balloon, quietly floating across the eerie silence of the office, before disappearing down the long stretch of corridor that ended in darkness.
After all the hype and non stop advertising, it was a surreal moment to think that despite all six of us joining the massive hordes of horror fans venturing to the cinema this weekend to see the return of Pennywise, not one of us thought of reviewing it for HCF. Maybe it was just the general excitement of seeing this evil clown back on the screen again and the feeling all week was something I haven’t felt since Ghostface returned in 2011 with his belated Scream sequel.
Pennywise is not quite as iconic as the likes of Freddy Kruger, but for a character that only starred in one TV Movie way back in 1990, his image is synonymous with evil clowns and that’s despite, are you ready for this? the original film not being that good!.
But back then I was only thirteen years old and already I had been spoilt with the men from Elm St, Haddonfield and Camp Crystal, so too have a film about a killer clown morph into one big disappointing spider towards the end, left me not just confused but quite cold to the whole thing.
But the reputation of that film and the reason it has entered into a kind of pop culture lore is thanks to the performance of Tim Curry who simply stole the show as Pennywise and the main reason why its so well loved by many. His first appearance enticing George into the sewers is one of the most memorable scenes and so its fitting that this remake starts off in the same – excuse the pun – boat!
Even before I sat in my chair and the cinema lights went dim, there was an eerie silence in the air. At first I thought the couple in front of me were holding hands, until she whispered in her boyfriends ear “I hate clowns” and realized that she was holding on due to be being terrified than actually being in love. I could sense it everywhere and for a horror fan who has attended more horror showings than the normal filmgoer, this was the first time in many years that I felt some of the audience around me were more scared at the thought at what they were about to see than what they actually were going to see. The advantage IT has is that people are generally scared of clowns, not helped of course by the idiotic clown craze that swept the nation over the last few years. So to have that feeling going into this film can only help Pennywise deliver the goods.
You can see the direction that this remake is heading, right from the very effective beginning. Its 1988 and Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) and Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) have just built a paper boat, in which Georgie thinks it be fun to go out in a rainstorm and watch it float! As it heads towards the opening of the sewers, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) makes his first appearance and the difference between this moment and the 1990 film will shock you.
While the original relied on Curry to deliver the scares, this version uses all the tricks that the likes of Insidious has fallen on. We have the big screeching musical tones and the scares that “jump at you” its obvious from the off that this 2017 version was going all out to be more darker and menacing. While the horror genre has been dumbed down over the years, the first 10 minutes was a welcome treat. I am not once fazed by this clown phobia, so for me personally it was a delight to see an old fashioned bogeyman back on the big screen.
With found footage and ghosts haunting the genre over the last few years, IT is a throwback to an era when Freddy ruled the box-office and you cant help but feel that the Elm Street franchise has its grubby razor gloved fingerprints all over this movie. Like in the original Nightmare, in which Freddy is a mysterious and downright scary creation, here Pennywise is rightly used sparingly, he haunts the film even when he is not around and you can just imagine that by the time we reach IT: 3: The Warriors Club, he’ll be uttering phases like “Welcome to the circus bitch” to appease the new upcoming horror crowd.
But a bogeyman is only as strong as its counterpart and thankfully the film’s heartbeat is with The Losers Club, a bunch of kids who just want to have one last summer of fun, but instead are scarred by the disappearance of Georgie over a year ago. Fans of the quite brilliant Stranger Things my scream “rip off”, but that is insulting to director Andy Muschietti as The Duffer Brothers who created the acclaimed Netflix series have always said that the show was inspired by the likes of the original IT and they themselves, lobbied hard a few years back to remake the film.
The kids steal the show. While its easy to point out Finn Wolfhard as Ritchie, simply because of the Stranger Things connection, others like Sophia Lillis who plays Beverly and Jeremy Ray Taylor’s Ben, drive the films narration and without these kids acting their socks off, IT would not be half as good! It helps that they each have a backstory that not only helps supplies the scares, but also makes us the viewer desperately want these kids to survive. Yes that Elm Street feeling even when I am writing this, simply does not go away.
By changing the novel’s 1950’s settings to the 80’s is a smart move. There is something about that period that will stir memories for many, from the kids playing arcade games to an overall feeling of innocence that just sparkles from the screen. The 1980’s were awash with classic kids films that were littered with a dark edge that in today’s world, filmmakers would never be able to get away with. Penis jokes in The Goonies, sex gags in Ghostbusters, even Gremlins had an awful (but wonderful) l “How my Dad died at Christmas” back story and the beauty of 2017’s IT is that despite it being a fully fledged horror flick, you could say that it also works perfectly as a dark children’s story.. A coming of age tale where instead of a bunch of friends being terrorised by the “beast” over by The Sandlot, they are being harassed by a killer clown.
Of course many will not care at how deep rooted this film is, how it does that rare thing and makes you actually care about the characters in peril, many of you will attend this weekend just to be scared and judging by the many around me that were weeping and screaming – I swear I may have gone slight deaf in one ear- the feedback I was getting is that the film works on so many levels. The hardened horror fan will appreciate the love and hard work that has gone into this production while those looking for a good old date night movie will love the scares that IT throws at you. That woman in front of me who whispered she hates clowns? for the two hours running time, she must have only looked up to the big screen for a total thirty minutes, her head buried deep in her boyfriends shoulder apart from that one brief moment she looked at me with a weary smile and said “I can’t handle this!.
And I guess many won’t be able too! Skarsgård delivers a show stopping horror performance that will put him on the same path with the likes of Englund and co! How does it compare to Curry’s? Its pointless to even do that. While Freddy will always struggle to have a new nightmare now that Robert has retired from the dream killing business, Pennywise benefits from the fact he has only appeared in one movie and while Curry created the memorable and never to be forgotten image of this clown, Skarsgård is helped by the strong material all around him, that brings Pennywise into the year 2017. It really does feel like a start of a whole new franchise!
There are some strong set-pieces that I spent more time marvelling at than being scared. This version is also surprisingly gorier than I expected – which is always a welcome- and by the time we reach the showdown finale, it may not offer up nothing new to the genre, but by then you have had such a good time, you don’t really care.
While the end caption reads “End Of Chapter One“, you can only believe that this is just the start. I am not even worried that a chapter two with the kids now adults won’t have the same effect, simply because A: These kids are awesome and B: Its much more scarier having kids in danger than us watching adults do stupid things. But what IT has done is reignite a genre that has been dead for a few years.
Expect other studios to now jump on the bandwagon, as with Michael dusting down his Williams Shatner mask for an all new Halloween, expect the likes of Paramount to be watching from afar to see how much money Pennywise makes and then finally move forward the forever neglected Jason sequel. Watch in two years as another dog pisses on the bones of Freddy and he’ll come back to life once more, even if its with a new scarred face, because like Scream in 1996 that briefly re-started the slash genre, you can see this having the same effect. IT is not a perfect film, but it achieves what it has set out to do. It will scare the teen audience, while entertain the rest and will no doubt take millions at the box office.
Pennywise may not be as iconic as Freddy and co, but by the end of 2017, he could well be the most important bogeyman out of them all as he will be the sole reason why a genre long thought dead is all set to explode once more……and for all horror fans out there, its a prospect that can only make us smile with happiness which is not bad for a film many considered at first “as just another remake!”….
IT truly is a remarkable triumphant achievement………