it review the losers club finn wolfhard sophia lillis jaeden lieberher 2Year: 2017
Director(s): Andy Muschietti
Writer(s): Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman, Stephen King
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 135 mins

Synopsis: A group of bullied kids band together when a shapeshifting demon, taking the appearance of clown, begins hunting children. (Source)

Stephen King adaptations are often defined by their physical manifestations of fear, and for good reason. The Shining’s Overlook Hotel, Misery’s Annie Wilkes, Carrie’s bucket of blood, It’s very own Pennywise the clown, and so on. Still, most King fans will confess that these iconic elements are only as interesting as the relationships and people they prey on. It’s unfortunate, then, that most King adaptations get caught up within high concepts and fail to focus on the rich characters getting lost in translation. This isn’t a problem for Andy Muschietti’s It. Muschietti’s adaptation is a stirring period piece of a simpler time, part portrait of childhood innocence, and timeless battle between good and evil. With its ensemble of impossibly cute stars, It is a rarity in mainstream horror – a film that delivers the requisite blood and gore, but is also anchored by sincere heart and a message about conquering grief and fear through friendship.

In the late 1980’s, people are going missing in Derry, Maine at an alarming rate. Unable to figure out the cause, the town sets into an unfortunate state of complacent and apathy. One of the town’s inhabitant’s, a young boy named Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), is unable to look the other way, however – his brother is one of those who’s gone missing. Just as summer starts, he and his friends, the self-proclaimed Loser’s Club set out to solve an unsolvable mystery. Of course, things get complicated when each member of the club begins to suffer from horrible visions and physical manifestations all linked to the same creepy clown (Bill Skarsgard). With everything to lose and no one to help but each other, the club set out to put things right no matter what.

it review bill skarsgardHands down, what separates Muschietti’s effort from most, is that it wrings its horror from sincere, relatable drama. Though the scares come at a consistent rate, Muschietti allows things to unfold patiently, tracking the lives of his characters, delving into their home lives and past traumas which fester like open wounds. Those wanting merely a succession of jump scares may be let down. Sure, the film is scary, but not in a fleeting, jack-in-the-box way. There’s constant dread here, even as summertime hangouts often brief respites and kids get to be kids. We feel the oppression of growing up, the burden of history’s sins and the idea that nothing lasts forever. All of these things compound and build throughout, using scares to build character and lead to a completely cathartic conclusion. Those just looking for gore, you’ll get it and a ton of macabre machinations, but its the emotion that really cuts here. In the end, it’s the emphasis on friendship that makes the film really matter.

Visually, the film is gorgeous. The town of Derry, Maine is as important a character as the film’s anti-heroes, and Muschietti and photographer Chung Chung-hoon wondrously create a time and place that is immersive. Much of the film is a contrast between brightly colored skies, violent storms or shadowy interiors. Like the struggles of each character, there are seasons which shift with moods and struggles. As the film’s preteen warriors discover the town’s secrets and the ancient evil that grips it, Muschietti’s grounded but stylized world draws us into an existential nightmare that is hard to shake. It should also be noted that Muscheitti and Chung stage each scare with a masterful touch. Surreal imagery abounds, with dreamlike sequences that sneak up on us and prolonged scenes of tension that play out like hyperreal funhouse scares.

it review bill skarsgardEven with Muschietti’s firm grasp on tone, style and substance, it’s the film’s kids who really anchor the story and act as its heart and soul. Jaeden Lieberher’s stuttering, grief-stricken Bill, Jeremy Ray Taylor’s bookish Bill, Wyatt Oleff’s straight-arrow Stan, Chosen Jacobs’ stoic Mike, Finn Wolfhard’s wisecracking Richie and Sophia Lillis’ Beverly are all pitch perfect. If we’re being honest, Wolfhard and Lillis steal the show, but each carries their own weight, creating a tapestry of diverse fears and strengths. The chemistry is out of control, and together, these kids are a total gas. They’re disarmingly and relentlessly funny, which only makes us care about them more and keeps the scares that much more meaningful. Opposite them, Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise is a new horror icon. Skarsgard oozes menace, knowing how to tow the line between cartoonish allure and downright evil. With such a contrasting mix of performances, the film is rich and never lacking in substance.

It is so many things, it turns out. Proof that redundant adaptations can find their own voice and transcend source material, heartfelt love letter to childhood and a new standard in blockbuster horror. With its unforgettable performances, focused direction and visually stunning nightmare images, this thing is the complete package. Another rare thing about this film? I already can’t wait to see it again, and I’m dying for another chapter.

SG