DIR: Andy Muschietti • WRI: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman • PRO: Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg, Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Barbara Muschietti • DOP: Chung-hoon Chung • ED: Jason Ballantine • DES: Claude Paré • MUS: Benjamin Wallfisch • CAST: Bill Skarsgård, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer
Growing up is a difficult business at the best of times, but when you add a monstrous immortal entity that kills children exclusively to the equation things get a whole lot messier.
Pennywise is back and more terrifying than ever in the newest adaptation of Stephen King’s infamous novel. Director Andy Muschietti crafts the film with a real self-awareness as to its inherently goofy imagery, masterfully weaving terror and tension into the obscene and absurd. For all the scares, however, the film is anchored by a genuinely moving core, full of heart, emotion and even a few good laughs. Tying everything together are the fantastic performances by the lead child cast, all of whom bring a depth to their characters many of their adult counterparts would envy, and of course, the killer clown himself, Bill Skarsgård.
Set in the sleepy Maine town of Derry in the summer 1989 (the ’80s are so hot right now but, to give the film credit, pushing the events a few decades after they take place in the novel does not in any way impose on the plot), a group of bullied kids discover the horrifying truth behind the disappearance of multiple local children. Under the pavements, in the sewers, a shape-shifting entity better known as Pennywise the Clown has come back to life after thirty years of hibernation and is resuming once more the hunt. As the town’s adults remain belligerently blind to the events unfolding under their very noses, the ‘Losers’ gang must learn to face their inner metaphorical demons before they can confront the very literal monster feeding on their deepest and darkest fears.
This is a film that lives or dies on two mutually important elements; Pennywise and the kids. Without one working to full capacity the other is also dragged down with it. Luckily, Muschietti knows how to bring out the best in both. Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise is truly unsettling and while it is inevitable perhaps that his performance will draw comparison to Tim Curry’s famous turn as the character in the 1990 TV adaptation, Skarsgård succeeds and surpasses on every level. His voice constantly alternates between eerily childlike to rough and gravelly, as though the monster is barely able to conceal his true nature under his deceptively child-friendly appearance. Though of course he is helped along by excellent costume design and make-up, where Skarsgård really passes the text is in films stranger moments where Pennywise has the potential to look ridiculous, but yet he always manages to maintain an exceptionally menacing undercurrent.
This performance is nicely complimented by the film’s child stars. While all the Losers gang are well cast and convey their roles perfectly, the standouts are Sophia Lillis as Beverley, Jaeden Lieberher as Bill and Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben. Each bring a maturity and vulnerability to their respective roles that makes them constantly engaging to watch and ensures the audience feels something real towards them, making the scenes where their characters are in danger all the more tense.
There are few things in the film that distract from its overall enjoyability, however, namely the strange objectification of Beverley, a girl no older than thirteen. It is not a consistent theme throughout the film but there are moments that feel somewhat uncomfortable. Perhaps the argument here is that, as the only girl in the group and the object of her fellow gang members’ affection, we are supposed to see her through the eyes of a boy the same age. But it’s difficult to forget that the person behind the camera is a grown man and so too are many of the audience members. Asking us to gaze at this fifteen-year-old actress the way a thirteen-year-old boy would seemed a little weird, and not in a good way.
Putting this rather awkward nugget aside, IT nonetheless manages in a lot of ways to improve on its source material, combining horror and adventure in a way that will leave audiences both scared and exhilarated.
16 (See IFCO for details)
IT is released 8th September 2017