Stephen King’s It remains one of the most popular of his works, instantly recognizable thanks to the massively successful book and the large exposure from the TV miniseries. Stating the obvious of course, but I bring this up because expectations on the new It adaptation are through the roof. A ton of people know the story, from experienced King fans to those that ask, "Is that the film with that damn clown?" The way this “clown” wormed its way into our minds, or more importantly into mainstream pop culture, is one of King’s finest hours. Thankfully with our latest outing, dealing with familiar ground, the story is not only respected but told with a confidence that makes for an entertaining movie, never once feeling redundant. I mean, yeah, it has scares for days and should be labeled a proper "Horror" film but that’s not the only thing it gets right. The film is effortlessly charming and often times very hilarious, even in the most violent of sequences. Think Poltergeist-JoBeth Williams-slips in the pool kind of fun but over and over again.
This film looks incredible, too, thanks to the stunning cinematography from Chung-hoon Chung, who recently shot the Hell out of Chan-wook Park’s film The Handmaiden. His visuals here leave no room for complaints, blending rich darks with beaming Derry, Maine sunlight. His contrasts between this beautiful town and say Pennywise’s lair is a lovely thing to witness. The sound design on It is a disgusting blend of gurgles, cracking bones, sewer splashes, and ungodly demonic screams, which is to say it is great; the sound work makes It ten times more immersive than any 3D effect could ever pull off. Making great use of surround sound, Pennywise feels like he’s coming for you at all angles, causing you to writhe in your seat. This film does have a big chunk of digital effects, but I feel they are handled with delicate care and they avoid becoming embarrassing, like something out of The Thing prequel from 2011. Trust me, I too would love to watch Rob Bottin's It, but the digital work here is terrifyingly good. Animators really went nuts here giving the infamous monster a variety of ways to salt the meat of its prey. My favorite gag involves a fridge that Pennywise emerges from, I will say no more, just know it is very impressive work.
All of this joy I speak of is no doubt made cohesive by our perfectly cast lead children. They will be remembered on a Goonies-level for years to come, I am sure. Each of them shine in their own right delivering adult material like an experienced comedic troupe. Worried about that Stranger Things on-the-nose casting? Toss that down a sewer drain because Finn Wolfhard brought his A-game. His take on Richie Tozier will put to rest all complaints of fan-casting as the hyperactive motormouth. A special shoutout goes out to Jeremy Ray Taylor and his portrayal of Ben Hanscom. He melts your heart without saying a word and when he does speak it melts your heart all over again. Lots of melts, I know, but he was that good. Director Andy Muschietti pulls off the biggest hurdle in tackling It, making us care about the fate of every child. They are wonderful and you’ll follow them anywhere, even into the cursed sewers of Derry where they face certain death at the hands of the unthinkable.
About that clown. Bill Skargård knocks it out the park and I say that without hesitation. Strip away the effects and focus on his dialog delivery and body language and you will want nothing to do with Bill's Pennywise. The way he drifts his eyes in mid conversation, the glee as he plays with his food (kids) and the tilting of the head like a curious puppy as its victims stand frozen, questioning their reality. Less silly, more demented, was the direction they leaned into and it works. Pennywise is not ruined ladies and gentlemen, in fact the monster has yet another terrific performance, adding to the monster's legacy. That’s three great performances by my count: Tim Curry, Bill Skarsgård, and the clown you create when you read It.
Derry is a cursed town. All of the adults in it are off in some way or another; overprotective, perverted, or insanely unaware that adults and tons of kids have gone missing for generations. The Losers' Club are strong together but they are scared and outgunned; can they put a stop to this Hell or will they fall victim to fear and be consumed by that thing from your worst nightmare? Stephen King’s It just got a shot in the arm with this big screen adaptation, solidifying its place in our hearts and minds as one of the great American horror stories. I simply can not wait to hang out with The Losers in It: Chapter Two.
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