A straightforward adaptation of Stephen King’s novel that offers thrills and spills through an orthodox, tick-the-checkbox style horror movie, though the solid cast chemistry should win you over.
Dir. Andy Muschietti
2017 | USA | Drama/Horror | 135 mins | 2.39:1 | English
NC16 (edited) for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language
Cast: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis
Plot: A group of bullied kids band together when a shape-shifting demon, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.
Distributor: Warner Bros
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Mainstream
(Reviewed in theatres – first published 1 Oct 2017)
A surprise box-office hit, which will certainly push Warner Brothers to develop the sequel sooner rather than later, It reaped the rewards of its strong marketing hype and maestro horror writer Stephen King’s name. We have to go back to 1990 for the TV movie, starring Tim Curry as the eponymous evil entity, for a memorable dose of scares… and plodding storytelling.
In this 21st century update, the film balances the ‘feel’ of a 1980s horror flick with crisper visuals and modern effects. It is certainly a very good-looking horror movie, with Chung Chung-hoon, the cinematographer for a number of Park Chan-wook’s films, including Oldboy (2003) and The Handmaiden (2016), responsible for imbuing his shots with an ominous yet strangely entrancing quality.
I think the cinematography coupled with the solid cast chemistry—of young unknowns—play a huge role in keeping audiences hooked. The performances by this ragtag of ‘Losers’ should win you over, even when the storytelling doesn’t quite consistently compel. Told in a straightforward way, It offers thrills and spills in large doses, but the scenarios that play out are mostly of the orthodox, tick-the-checkbox mould.
“This isn’t real enough for you, Billy? I’m not real enough for you? It was real enough for Georgie.”
After a while, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), the evil clown, feels like a caricature of itself. Skarsgard, who will surely become a household name after this outing, plays Pennywise too matter-of-factly. If Curry’s portrayal creeps up on you like a tarantula crawling up your back, Skarsgard’s is like putting foot to pedal—a case of differing styles: chilling versus menacing. I like my cup of tea chilled.
There are, however, some genuine moments of terror. One particular sequence, which I like most (because it gives me the tingles), is a sequence of the kids projecting some old photos onto a screen—the notion of trying to learn about some horrid truth through dissecting old photos scares the hell out of me. Double the whammy when matched with the presence of Pennywise.
It is, of course, not just about a clown with a fetish for balloons and terrorising kids; the real horror is facing fear Itself, in whatever manifestation. The parallels of adults and school bullies as real-life monsters are surely not lost on anyone—this is also very much the theme of more allegorical horror films like Guillermo Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone (2001).
Their journey of fear, also a coming-of-age one marked by an undercurrent of sexual tension and spewing of cuss words, may be ordinary, but their pubescent energy radiates boundlessly. Perhaps it is the vicarious access to this energy, already lost through the passing of time, that resonates most with older audiences.