Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Bill Skarsgård.
Plot: People go missing in the small town of Derry, a group of children team up to find the reason why. They find that reason in an evil shape-shifting clown called Pennywise that preys on the townsfolk every 27 years, now all they have to do is defeat IT.
As one of the most hyped remakes in a long time, IT had a lot to live upto both in being compared to the book itself )from legendary writer Stephen King) but also in comparison to Tim Curry’s Pennywise. This remake by Andy Muschietti also had a lot of promotion: the trailers released for IT went viral in days and people all over the world announced seeing red balloons coming from drains, with the film even being linked to the scary clowns that were seen all over America last year. This seems to have paid off, as IT (as of today – 15th October) has had the biggest opening weekend of any Horror film in history – surpassing cult favourite The Exorcist – and has even passed the $500 million mark at the worldwide box office; a new record.
The movie itself tells a dark tale of an evil clown terrorising a small town in Maine. The biggest take away from the film is that the casting of Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise was a brilliant choice as the actor adds to the creepy atmosphere of the film with his happy clown-like laughter and terrific facial expressions, the likes of which set you on edge from the moment he meets poor old Georgie at the moment of his introduction. IT is arguably Bill Skarsgård’s biggest feature to date – he has previously proven his credibility in the Horror genre with the TV show ‘Hemlock Grove’ but IT remains his mainstream debut – and it has given way to bigger and better things for his future ahead. There is no doubt that this movie is the actor’s film, with the feature primarily focusing upon his character’s terrorisation of the town of Derry, but it cannot be ignored that the film also has a stellar young cast that works to increase his presence, including Finn Wolfhard (‘Stranger Things’), who brings new life to this remake, and a bunch of other credible, young, yet still largely unknown actors who often bring the comic relief to the film; something the more easily frightened amongst us may need at certain points in the film.
Filling Tim Curry’s shoes in the role of Pennywise must have been difficult but Skarsgård has done it with ease. In IT (2017), Pennywise is a much scarier and demonic representation of the character than the sinister clown of the 90’s, with the main difference in the character coming from the increased level of menace at which Pennywise is portrayed by Skarsgård. Tim Curry’s clown was a creepy looking clown, yet he looked as you would imagine a clown to look, and some of the scariest things about his version of Pennywise were the constant grinning smile, that raspy laugh and the human sounding voice that made you believe he was real. Skarsgård’s Pennywise is the clown of nightmares with a large misshapen domed head and evil, dead looking eyes, profuse drooling and long sharp teeth. There is simply no mistaking him for human, he is a monster. Skarsgård brings Pennywise to life with his strange, happy, childlike voice and his almost ballerina like movements, and is vitally presented as approaching the screen (or his victims) at an abnormal speed, further highlighting just how far from human he really is, separating the character not only from previous iterations but also introducing the character to a new generation with distinctly different tastes.
This presentation is just one of many examples of how director Andy Muschietti has proven himself yet again within the Horror genre – the Argentinean director is also known for his 2013 success Mama and is already rumoured to be directing the second instalment of IT, set for release in 2019. He did, at times, pay the correct amount of fan service by staying true to the original 2 part TV series and the book, which is displayed instantly as the film begins with the horror character’s initial interaction with Georgie where the same lines are spoken. The director did, however, use such tributes and call backs to play with audience expectations, offering a much more gruesome and in-your-face death scene than was offered in the 1990’s version. Much like the unexpected violence of a seemingly child-friendly performance actor – a clown – Muschietti instantly strays away from the normal presentation of the character within its own lore to offer something similarly more violent, building the character as something ultimately more dangerous than ever before, inducing a fear that doesn’t leave for the majority of the run-time. Another example of this would be the infamous scene where Beverly (Sophia Lillis) hears someone talking from her sink and a balloon rises full of blood from the drain, covering her. In the original this was mildly creepy and off-putting as a viewer, but Muschietti is definitely giving in to the audience’s modern-day blood lust in this new version wherein the entire room is bathed in red, making reference to The Shining where the halls literally burst full of blood.
The use of cinematography within IT is also cleverly used to differentiate the film from the typical Horror genre presentation, the likes of which are primarily shot in near darkness. IT has spectacular panoramic scenes shot over rivers and with the group of children wistfully laughing and jumping from high rocks into scenic emerald-like water which almost makes you believe you aren’t even watching a Horror film at all and are just a part of an endless summer in sunny America. These beautiful shots are then transposed with off-putting angles and unsettling closeups of Pennywise and the dark dwelling of his that offsets the mood within this film and makes you constantly feel on edge as you watch. You never feel completely safe watching a scene in full as this very specific yet effective technique, the movie’s jarring music and of course those red balloons hiding the dancing clown are never too far away.
As music is one of, if not the, most key element of the Horror genre, IT does not go without its eerie unpleasant cues such as whispering children singing the bells of saint Clements, a technique that set the tone immediately, and the heavily distorted carnival music that accompanies Pennywise’s dancing scene; the stuff of nightmares. The film is scored by Benjamin Wallfisch, known for composing the soundtracks to films such as Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation and most recently Blade Runner 2049, and his use of music in this film continually puts you on the edge of your seat. There is always a hint of malice in any scene you are watching in the film, which makes you, as a member of the audience, feel like you are stuck in Derry with those children and that at any turn Pennywise could be right there. In some scenes the music is completely overwhelming, such as a scene where Stanley sees his believed-to-be-dead brother Georgie in the basement and the crescendo as Pennywise appears offset with his manic laughter. It’s truly terrifying. However IT also uses such bands as The Cure and The New Kids on the Block to change the mood of the film to a lighter, happier tone and then along with the use of bands like Anthrax, Rush and Pixies really gives a nostalgic 80’s feel to it.
Like most films in mainstream Hollywood however, IT is not perfect and does seem to stumble courtesy of a few less impressive elements. One such a less-than-perfect element is the dialog between the children throughout the film, whose childish insults are a clear attempt by the screenwriter to give the film a more lighthearted and comedic tone yet ultimately comes across as repetitive and tiresome – let’s face it: horror and comedy rarely work well together. Another point that can be made against the film is how heavily focused a love triangle between Beverly, Stanley and Ben is in the film, which has been seen a million times before in a million different ways when the focus could have been set more interestingly on the strength of Beverly to get away from her abusive father and to rebel against him and his views on her femininity, or her getting away from his toxic presence around her in order to empower herself. This would certainly have improved the more generic presentation of vague implications regarding her treatment and her one dramatic scene regarding it that is quickly overshadowed by the film’s villain, Pennywise.
Conclusively, I would describe IT as having lived up to the reputation it has built for itself and is deserving of the hype that it is receiving, despite some slight grievances with this adaptation. Bill Skarsgård has brought Pennywise to a brand new terrifying level in this film and I’m sure that his version of the evil clown will be replicated tenfold in the Halloween holidays to come, which is a testament to how this film’s reception is really reaching a large amount of people throughout the world. Importantly to fans of Stepheen King, the film is as he intended it to be; scary and thought provoking on what truly terrifies us in the world. yet still inclusive of that twisted kind of humour that helps us to get completely invested into the story. IT is therefore a must-see for all fans of both Stephen King and of the Horror genre in general, more than holding its own against some of its genre rivals for 2017 thus far and being completely deserving of its current box office status. Hopefully Part 2 will be just as enthralling and will hold the audience to attention just as much as Part 1 has.