Film review: It
Written by Andrew Busch, Staff Writer
Stephen King’s 1986 horror novel, IT, finally received a feature length remake that hit theatres on September 7th. Released a full twenty-seven years after the 1990 mini-series starring Tim Curry as Pennywise, the film capitalizes on the genius moments in King’s story and gives the original source material some much needed changes. In fact, IT (2017) proves through its cast, the balance of humor and horror, and its examination of youth that in rare cases revitalizing a classic story is a worthwhile venture.
The first obvious change is the film’s representation of Pennywise. Despite the fact that Tim Curry’s role as Pennywise is revered by fans of the original series, Bill Skarsgård delivers a performance that is more unsettling, unpredictable and sinister. Skarsgård’s Pennywise acts human on surface level, but as the plot develops he deteriorates into a much more malevolent force. Even though Curry’s original performance is unnerving, the way that Skarsgård twitches, drools and rolls his eyes back accentuates the menacing elements of this character in a way that the television show never accomplished. But, Skarsgård is not given too many opportunities to produce more than the immediate response of a jump-scare. The impeccable opening kept me wanting more scenes that relied on Pennywise’s disturbing persona and twisted sense of humor. As a result, while Skarsgård delivers a memorable performance, his character feels underutilized with a lot of untapped potential as the film ends.
The rest of the film’s main characters are also worth mentioning even though the caliber of acting that these actresses and actors deliver is not impeccable. Yet, these performances are still impressive for such young talent. Jaden Lieberher (Billy), Sophia Lillis (Bev), and even Chosen Jacobs (Mike) sell the impact of childhood emotional trauma as well as portray how these experiences permanently damage their perceptions of the world. On the other hand, Finn Wolfhard (Richie) and Jack Grazer (Eddie) trade blistering insults, delivering much-needed moments of humor that lighten up some of the film’s darkest moments. As a result, the culmination of all of these performances is an honest snapshot of youth with all its growing pains. In fact, IT’s coming-of-age elements are some of the film’s greatest triumphs. The way youth is represented gives depth, emotions, and genuine motivations to characters in a way that most horror movies are not able to accomplish.
IT also strikes an excellent balance between humor and horror. Scenes where each of the main characters are tormented by Pennywise are tense, unnerving and even downright sinister. At the same time, following the more grotesque moments, scenes that shadow Billy’s group of friends, dubbed “the Losers Club”, offer a much-needed break from the intensity. The best part of these scenes is watching the dynamic of the group unfold. The characters argue, trade insults and showcase their naiveté about the world in a way that is childish, but hilarious. This even ratio of horror and humor might be one of the film’s most successful moves. In fact, most horror movies suffer because after several scary scenes are strung together the overall feeling of horror plateaus or wears off altogether. By devoting more time to cracking jokes IT proves sometimes the scariest movies don’t always need to take themselves so seriously.
However, IT has a couple of pitfalls, including both Henry’s story arc and even some major story elements that remain unexplained as the film draws to a close. First, Henry, the town bully, who gets his own minor plot arc as the action starts heating up, ends up feels like an unneeded distraction. Without spoiling this minor event completely, I will say that Pennywise drives Henry to commit murder. But when all is said and done, we don’t end up learning anything new that hasn’t already been presented in previous moments of the film. Pennywise is still evil and he gets more powerful as more evil events unfold and feelings of fear grow in the town.
I wish the film would have delved deeper into the motivations behind the adults in Derry instead of taking time aside for this one-dimensional character. The fact that they are so disturbing and evil is a fantastic plot point that doesn’t get a whole lot of mention besides the couple of scenes with Eddie’s mom and Bev’s dad. I think that revealing some of the stories behind this older generation would have made Pennywise’s control on Derry even more concrete than Henry’s plot arc.
Additionally, IT’s strong story fails as it draws to a close because a number of major plot points remain unexplained. Specifically, what left me wondering was whether or not the rest of the town actually discovers what happened to the missing children. Besides Georgie, there is no mention if they are dead or still alive. On the other hand, there is no real follow-up on the consequences of Henry’s murder. As a result, IT’s missteps are frustrating because these seemingly minor problems indicate a sloppiness that does not match film’s attention to detail. For a film that expertly executes the intricacies of a classic story and balance IT forgets to spend precious time addressing the plot’s most important moments.
And while I am frustrated by how this film’s moments of imperfection continue to trickle into the plot, I still think this movie is a brilliant representation of the capabilities of horror movies. IT is more than a one-trick-pony designed to scare your pants off. The film is an exploration of the traumas of growing up riddled with humor as much as it is a terrifying encounter with the malevolent. As a result, this dual nature makes this film a horror movie worth remembering and a successful retelling of King’s classic story.
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