I’ll put it out there now, but the 1990 version of It is terrible. The writing, the acting and the way they massacred King’s mammoth novel for a watered down TV movie was shockingly poor. However, I’m fairly certain that if you asked anyone about it, they’d immediately picture Tim Curry’s frankly horrifying embodiment of Pennywise. It’s the one and only thing that was done right, and I suspect tricks people into remembering the movie more fondly than it deserves.
So I was really intrigued when they announced that they were making the movie again. Not a remake as such, but a proper adaptation of the book. All eyes were on who would be taking on that role and what he’d look like. There was a need (or a necessity) to take this version in a different direction and I hoped they wouldn’t shy away from the parts of the novel that would never make it into a TV movie. Did they succeed? Oh yes.
Set in Derry in 1989 (a shift from the 1950s basis for the novel), It is the tale of a town plagued by an evil that ritually takes its children in huge numbers every 27 years. Be that by murder, kidnap or large scale disasters, it has been happening for a long time, but it takes our band of unlikely heroes to piece it together and mount the first counter attack.
There’s so much that It gets right. It’s filmed beautifully, with a spot-on late 80s feel. There’s a distinct separation between the visual tone in certain parts of the movie, which works well to both prepare us and catch us off guard. From the bright and hazy summer days by the river, to the dark and murky mystery of when something isn’t quite right.
What Andy Muschietti succeeds at is giving us the feeling of palpable dread. It lingers. It’s always just out of sight and is clearly very, very dangerous. Mixing an epic score with the occasional 80s banger, the soundtrack weaves in and out, has your head nodding one second and your hair raising the next. It’s astonishingly well put together, and very effective.
Casting this movie right was everything. These kids are really something else. In many ways, they’re the absolute highlight of the movie. Genuinely funny, engaging and they go all in. For anyone who has read the novel, your Losers Club is exactly how you’ve always imagined them and then some. With the exception of Stan, who is the most underdeveloped (but also least interesting) character, you’ll care about them all.
Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard is a superstar. He’s given the best lines, he’s incredibly watchable and he nails it, and Jaeden Lieberher is perfect as the young “stuttering Bill”. I’ve only recently read the book, but I doubt they could have found actors more suited to these parts.
Then there’s Pennywise. Everyone’s favourite dancing, child killing clown. Curry’s interpretation was lifted straight from the pages of the book, and was incredible, so our new big bad was always going to be different.
Worry not, Bill Skarsgard is very, very good. In his opening scene, he’s childish, adorable, intriguing, funny and desperately frightening. The voice is great, the mannerisms are creepy and everything about him (including his eyes) is just off kilter at all times. I don’t think anyone will be disappointed with Bill’s performance, even if you are a little surprised at how little of him you actually see.
It’s a shame then that Pennywise is so CGI heavy. Though there’s clearly a need for it at times, some practical effects really would have taken it to an entirely different level of horror.
Speaking of which, It is scary. For horror fans, there’s possibly nothing here that you’ve not seen in some form before, but it’s handled well. There’s no reliance on continued jump scares (though there are some genuine surprises), but instead there’s a sense of danger. And it’s brutal. If you’re concerned that they were going to neuter King’s extremely violent book, don’t be. Yes they’ve omitted scenes that genuinely couldn’t be filmed without giving the ratings board palpitations, but they don’t shy away from putting these kids in really unpleasant, disturbing and life threatening situations.
Of course, you should also know that this is only chapter 1. The novel is written in such a way that it jumps between time settings, places and backstories and it’s honestly pretty confusing sometimes, but they’ve made the decision to split the movie neatly into 2 parts, and they’ve set it up perfectly.
I can’t think of any horror movie that has arrived carrying this much anticipation, hope and hype. It is fantastic, gorgeous and scary, but perhaps 20 minutes too long. A tighter edit would have given us something really spectacular. Don’t miss it though. It’ll be remembered.
4 balloons out of 5. Go see it and you’ll float too.