07th Sep2017

‘It’ Review

by Joel Harley

Stars: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Owen Teague, Jackson Robert Scott, Stephen Bogaert, Stuart Hughes | Written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman | Directed by Andy Muschetti

it-one-sheet-poster

A little boy and his bright yellow raincoat, chasing a runaway paper boat in the rain. A clown in the storm drain and a bright red balloon. Many will recall this sequence of events from a fondly-remembered 1990s TV miniseries starring Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. This isn’t that though, and little Georgie Denbrough is bloodily dismembered in the street, dragged down into the drain, where he’ll float too, with the balloons and the dead things…

It’s been 27 years since the television adaptation of Stephen King’s It. And now, true to the legend, Pennywise has resurfaced. This re-adaptation by Andy Muschetti takes the epic novel, splits it in two and gives us the cinematic It that King’s classic has always deserved. Or half of it, anyway.

In 1980s Derry, America, a group of bullied, abused misfit children band together to fight the evil which claimed Bill Denbrough’s little brother, Georgie. Together, Bill, Ben, Beverly, Richie, Stanley and Mike make up the Losers’ Club, battling the dark forces of Derry, mulleted school bully Henry Bowers, and occasionally even their own parents. And, of course, Pennywise.

Pennywise is but a symptom of the disease eating away at Derry; able to run amok, unchecked thanks to the adults’ indifference and their own cruelty. Bill Skarsgård is barely restrained as Pennywise, treating the children like his own private all-you-can-eat buffet. If he looks more outwardly sinister than Curry’s iconic version of the monster, it’s because he doesn’t really need to appear docile or lure anyone in under false pretences. This Pennywise is pent-up and dangerous, and can (will) appear at anytime, anywhere, ready to throttle the life out of you before biting your face off. Although Skarsgård inevitably hits some of the same notes, it’s an altogether different performance from Curry’s – more jittery, ratlike and pathetic, the CGI allowing this Pennywise to get properly weird.

But no matter how effective its Pennywise is, what It really relies upon is its Losers Club. Thankfully, Muschetti mostly nails that too. The kids are great fun, and the cast and writing does a great job with the individual neuroses and peculiarities. Each of them, for the most part, feel like the characters from the book, from Bill Denbrough’s stutter to Ben’s big heart and Eddie’s hypochondria. Richie is actually properly funny too, little Finn Wolfhard getting all of the best lines and big laughs. He, Sophie Lillis (as Beverly) and Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie) steal the show from under poor Bill Denbrough, who should be the group’s leader but here seems lost and weak.

Pleasingly, It is full of soul and emotion (recalling The Conjuring 2’s comforting guitar sequence), and one quickly comes to love the lot of them. Even poor Stanley and Mike, who wind up getting the short thrift of the story again.

But there’s a lot of story to pack in, and even at 2 hours 15 minutes, It rattles along at breakneck speed. Fans of the novel might have hoped for more from the other missing children, and the narrative desperately needs more bonding sequences for the group (and no, I don’t mean orgies) but there’s plenty of Pennywise for one’s buck. The big screen and high-budget CGI unleashes all manner of modern scares upon the group, both novel-accurate and not. While not all of the jump scares land and It is never properly scary – unlike, say, The Conjuring or Insidious – the film is thick with atmosphere and oppressively creepy. It’s easily one of the best Stephen King adaptations of all time, and the most fun since 2007’s 1408.

There’s more to come, but It functions nicely as its own stand-alone movie, with a tidy character arc for Bill and a couple of the other Losers. That setup is there though, for a Part II tantalisingly hidden behind as-yet uncast adult versions of the Losers and the return (again) of Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

Only time will tell whether this version of Pennywise proves as iconic as the last, to similarly reverberate through the years. But on the basis of Part I, he’s made an excellent first impression. This time, at least, we don’t have to wait 27 years for his return.

It is in UK cinemas from tomorrow.

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