it review bill skarsgardYear: 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)

Two of the great – yet most difficult to adapt – villains in literary history are Randall Flagg and Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Coming from the mind of writer Stephen King, both have had varying iterations over the years. Interestingly enough, two summer movies this year have given us new takes on these characters, and one totally outstrips the other. Any worries or fears about the latest Pennywise (I wish I could say the same about the Walkin’ Dude) can now be easily settled with Bill Skarsgard’s career defining performance. Coupled with director Andy Muschietti deft direction, the pair contribute to an outstanding take on King’s seminal It. The tone, period, cast and effects are all monstrously amazing. Fittingly, the film is faithful to its source material, going beyond its sinister clown to showcase the power of friendship amongst the story’s self-proclaimed Losers Club.

Set in the summer of 1989, the film follows Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) as he grieves the loss of his brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) – missing under mysterious circumstances. In fact, scores of children in Bill’s hometown of Derry, Maine are going missing, but the town can’t seem to care after the list becomes too large. Enter Bill’s friends, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Ritchie (Finn Wolfhard), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Stan (Wylett Oleff) and Beverly (Sophia Lillis) – The Losers Club. Together, they vow to solve the mystery of Derry’s shocking epidemic, which happens to be linked to an ancient evil. Along the way, they also have to face some of their greatest personal fears and a pesky bully out for blood.

it review finn wolfhard sophia lillis jaeden lieberherLike any modern horror film, I wasn’t surprised by the number of jump scares in the film, but was surprised to find how incredibly well placed they were. Nothing came out of total silence or wasn’t sort of “advertised” in some way. Even more importantly, they all serve story, building up character and weaving a tale about growing up with grief, societal pressure, and even self-perceived inadequacy. Throughout, Muschietti uses every tool in the scare book, but there’s a real weight to each shock, which lingers longer than its initial sting. Those with eagle eyes will notice that the creepiest gag in the entire movie is one that slips by without bringing attention to itself – it can put Exorcist III‘s hallway decapitation to shame. If you miss out, or are going back for seconds, keep your eyes open in the library behind Ben as he reads about the Derry Iron Works explosion. It’s a great example of the chills and sick sense of humor that make It stand out from it’s contemporaries.

Even with style and atmosphere for days, there isn’t enough praise that could be given to the amazing cast. Lieberher takes Bill on a journey that feels totally satisfying by the time it reaches its conclusion. He leads this bizarre-o magnificent seven with the sense of a true leader and someone who wants to deal with the fear eating him from the inside out. As a foil, Wolfhard’s Richie is a living, breathing interpretation of King’s words. He drops the Treasure of the Sierra Madre quotes, talks about measuring dicks, and is the guy you know will probably grow up to be the most successful of the bunch. His performance is beautiful – so much so that it brought a tear to my salty soul. The only character who doesn’t benefit from his screen time is Jacobs’ Mike – a character who is very hard to translate to the screen. Those familiar with the book know how pivotal he is, yet we lose much of his fascinating backstory. Last, but certainly not the least, Lillis is a walking angel and Muschietti and co. knew this. For the boys, Bev is supposed to be their first love and he never fails to put us in their shoes when she is on screen, commanding with her forceful presence.

it review drainSo how does the villain stack up? Pennywise is creepy, funny, scary and downright nightmarish. Skarsgard’s chiseled face makes for a striking façade of white grease paint, and his whimsical physicality is the stuff of night terrors. His voice is somehow gleeful but scary. From his first appearance on, he’s a drooling, sniveling predator anxious to kill his prey. This may be this generation’s boogeyman and it’ll be hard to top – in true King fashion, the story is only as good as its villain and this take is one for the ages.

A frighteningly captivating performance from Skarsgard, a merrily good band of misfits and a spooky score from Benjamin Wallfisch make for one of the best King adaptations in a long time. Some nuance and subplots may have been lost in translation (including an extremely important symbol and one of the characters falling victim to lazy writing) but all of that is easily forgiven. It is a fun, mischievous, and dark take on Stephen King’s masterwork.