Studio: Warner Bros.
Director: Andy Muschietti
Writer: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman
Producer: Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg, Barbara Muschietti
Stars: Jaeden Lieberher, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs, Bill Skarsgard
Seven friends unite to confront a manifestation of fear that wakes to kill children every 27 years.
If a film features a monster or a murder, chances are it probably qualifies as a horror movie. “It” features a monster committing murder, meaning it most definitely fulfills the criteria. So let’s cut the quibbling over distinctions between psychological thriller, dark drama, fabulist fantasy, or whatever other words one wants to misapply to sidestep calling a fig a fig. “It” is a horror film in the most traditional sense of the term, and a pretty good one at that.
The setup is relatively simple. Every 27 years, an otherworldly evil awakens in Derry, Maine to feed on the small town’s children. This evil takes shape as whatever a person fears, yet appears most often as toothy clown Pennywise. During the summer of 1989, six bullied boys and one abused girl come together under the commonality of their misfit statuses to drive the deceptive demon out of Derry once and for all.
Despite the straightforward summary, “It” crams in a considerable amount of content. The screenplay from Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman mounts a monumental effort to condense one of Stephen King’s lengthier novels, the “set in the past” half of it anyway, into a two hour and 15 minute movie. In general, their script covers all of the broad beat bases. However, having to adapt so much material means some of the sacrifices show their seams. Certain characters see side stories marginalized or otherwise juggled in ways that jumble the flow.
As much as the movie can be considered anything, whether one wishes to hail it for its coming of age themes, stylish scares, or something else, “It” is a highlight reel of charming characters, and a few terrifying ones too. Up for acclaim first is Bill Skarsgard’s performance as the titular evil entity.
Tim Curry’s iconic portrayal of Pennywise in the 1990 “It” TV miniseries ranks right up there with Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger and Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates as being among the most memorable movie villains associated exclusively with one actor. Those are colossal clown shoes to fill, yet Skarsgard puts his own uniquely eerie punctuation on the personality in the same way that Heath Ledger reinvented the Joker. Combined with his distinctive wig and wardrobe, Skarsgard builds an unsettling visage primarily through disturbingly expressive behavior, reaffirming Pennywise as the evil clown to end all evil clowns in the process.
Everyone will have his/her personal favorite Losers’ Club member, but Finn Wolfhard’s Richie certainly stands out. Richie benefits greatly from having the most entertaining dialogue as the Club’s resident comedian. Yet Wolfhard’s commitment to selling the snark behind those sentences makes his presence more meaningful than empty comic relief.
Impressively, Wolfhard really works to distinguish Richie from Mike Wheeler on “Stranger Things,” even though both properties draw from the same well. “It” shows that Wolfhard can play similar people in more than one way, an outstanding feat for a young actor still drying the dampness behind his ears.
Likely pinging on fewer radars is Nicholas Hamilton as bad boy Henry Bowers. With huffing and puffing physicality and white-hot rage burning behind his eyes, Hamilton’s Henry makes for a terrific archetypical movie bully. It’s easy to overlook him though, because “It” doesn’t use Henry to his full extent. He is more of a temporary hurdle of inconvenience to occasionally overcome rather than a deep threat to the septet on par with Pennywise.
Similar sentiments apply to someone like Mike Hanlon, whose involvement in the Losers’ Club plays like an “oh yeah, him” inclusion. Tripping up the movie’s momentum are such sudden jumps to and from nearly a dozen main characters who are far from even in terms of relative weight and screen time. Several of these moments come across as obligatory, sometimes superfluous, instead of narratively necessary.
But “It” has “it” where it counts most, which is in packaging heartfelt human drama with countless classic creeps including haunted houses, multiple monsters, and severed body part carnage. Director Andy Muschietti probably puts too much passion into making his movie a sweeping epic, overdosing on CGI and allowing cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung to take visual fluidity to new extremes. Chung’s camera cannot stop indulging in cranes and dollies whether a scene calls for movement or not. Obviously, there are far worse crimes than doing too much, though it bears mention that on the technical front, “It” takes itself off any leash of restraint.
“It” plays as its own movie, but does feel like a prequel, which of course it is in a way. Even though that is true, I cannot recall another instance where end credits rolled and I was instantly filled with anxious anticipation for a follow-up film. Being able to generate this kind of emotional investment is a testament to how the film succeeds at making viewers care about its characters as well as the world they inhabit.
Review Score: 75