09th Sep2017

‘It’ Review #2

by Rupert Harvey

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


Stephen King’s bumper 1986 novel gets the fully-fledged cinematic treatment courtesy of Mama director Andy Muschietti, and screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman. It’s a rollicking ghost train of a teen horror; an overflowing toy box of shocker setpieces, jolting jump scares and pop culture allusions.

In keeping with the original story’s dual-timeline structure, this adaptation has relocated the childhood part of the story from the 1950s to the 1980s. (One could argue that the ‘80s has – in the quality of its idyllic nostalgia – now almost become the new ‘50s).

Understandably, Muschietti’s film will be regarded as a remake, given that its very existence would be doubtful were it not for the iconic 1990 TV miniseries. Iconic, but not all that great, especially the adult story sections. This version is secretly subtitled “Chapter One”, meaning it’s focused solely on the kids’ story.

The setting is a small mill town called Derry, where a group of nerdy kids – dubbed the “Loser Club” – convene against the backdrop of child disappearances. One of the missing is Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), whom we see in the opening scene being dragged into a storm drain by a vicious clown calling himself Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).

The Losers are comprised of Georgie’s guilt-ridden older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), studious Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), randy Richie (Finn Wolfhard), sturdy Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and weedy duo Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff). They are joined by the courageous Berverly (Sophia Lillis), who is markedly more mature than any of the boys.

Each of the kids gets their own, personalised haunting, some of which feature Pennywise himself, and some involving a unique incarnation. For example, Mike witnesses the ghosts of a terrible fire, mirroring the arson deaths of his parents; and Berverly’s blood-drenched visions seem specifically related to her purchasing her first box of Tampax.

Via the house at the end of the street (of course), it becomes apparent that “It” is a generalised evil, responsible for disasters and disappearances in the town for decades. Pennywise is simply one incarnation of this evil. But if they can defeat him, perhaps the Losers can vanquish the terrible cloud that casts its shadow over Derry.

Smartly leveraging the popularity of Stranger Things (it even steals Wolfhard from that show), Muschietti throws all the ‘80s adventure iconography at the screen: the small town setting with its dark past; kids on bikes; posters for Gremlins and Beetlejuice; a cinema showing Batman ’89 and The Dream Child… It’s all here, but it thankfully never overwhelms the frame for the sake of cheap nostalgia.

It’s certainly a film in love with its inspirations. Stand By Me, of course. Aficionados will also enjoy the torrent of blood scene – key King adaptation material since Carrie and The Shining. And there’s an extended allusion to Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water, involving a leaky roof and a kid in a yellow mac.

Skarsgård’s Pennywise is a genuinely menacing monster. While Curry was a nasty adult with facepaint, the 2017 clown is more heavily made-up, sporting a bulbous baby head and giant rabbit teeth. Speaking in a childlike voice, he’s more like an evil Easter bunny. Whichever take you prefer, there’s something perennially disturbing about a character who takes such obvious delight in seducing children, scaring them, and then eating them.

The scares are not subtle. We get an unrelenting barrage of wailing, movie drive-in shocks, far more intent on getting to the money shots than building tension. It’s brash and cacophonous – but then so was Poltergeist, another of its horror-adventure touchstones. More problematic is the running time, which careers far beyond the two-hour barrier. The result is that repetition begins to arise in the final act.

This repetition is a product of the film’s impatience to jolt the audience every couple of minutes. Perhaps we could have done with fewer mini-setpieces and a little more character development. Because the characters are well-sketched. There’s a sense that all of the kids are dealing with abuse on some level; whether it’s Eddie’s overprotective mother, Mike’s sense of being treated as an “outsider”, or Berverly’s very literal abuse at the hands of her father. Abuse – as King so often highlights – is something gifted down through generations.

The gang as a whole are a believable bunch of misfits, and they share great chemistry. Muschietti has obvious affection for his ensemble, and this puts us in the surprisingly rare position of caring for the fate of each of them equally. Even Richie, with his “adorkable misogynist” persona, is ultimately sympathetic; dare I say, heroic. And it’s refreshing to see the fat kid cast as the smart, sensitive one, rather than the clumsy figure of fun. The dialogue they share is snappy and convincing, laced with f-bombs and mother-related banter.

A B-movie with triple-A production values, this is the natural zenith for ‘80s revival culture. An obvious labour of love for the filmmakers, and a love letter to fans, in a multiplex landscape virtually devoid of fun, the Halloween party has come early. It may not have the satirical edge of Get Out, or the intensity of It Comes at Night – but it’s still one of the year’s best horrors by virtue of being a hugely enjoyable, unapologetically raucous romp through the horror movie playbook.

It is out in cinemas now.


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