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This is a film I have been waiting to review ever since I saw said film in the cinemas due to the unique challenge that It presents. And that is that ‘it’ is a very common word that we use so much that we are hardly aware of how much we use said word until one finds oneself in a certain position where using the word could get confusing when you’re also attempting to either a) not use the word at all; and b) just refer to the title. Now I could valiantly attempt to go through the entire review of It by only using the word when referencing the title, something that would become increasingly difficult the longer the review is. Nevertheless, this pesky two letter word is without a doubt one of the best horror films of the year, and even though I keep saying that I’m not particularly a great fan of the horror genre, I did thoroughly enjoy this film when I went to the cinema (god, this is difficult). At first I was not too invested in seeing It, if only because when I realised what the genre was, I was automatically against going and potentially creeping myself out. Yet the reviews all hailed the movie as an outright success, and commended the film on so many levels that I thought, as a prolific film-goer and budding critic, this was one movie that I should probably go and see.
Unlike the other Stephen King adapted book-to-movie that came out in 2017 (The Dark Tower, a novel that was recommended to me by a friend, but one that I was hardly able to get through, unfortunately, and one that I’ve not finished and probably won’t get round to finishing due to the horrendous reviews from the film itself), It received such critical acclaim when the film opened in cinemas worldwide that the zeitgeist was captured and my own curiosity was piqued. There is always a certain challenge with films such as this one, if only because there aren’t that many famous child actors, and a rule of thumb is that A-List actors are usually the ones to draw in all the money for these Hollywood-made movies. Yet other than Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and, to a lesser extent Wyatt Oleff (who played young Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy), there were no explicitly famous child actors in this movie. I’m not going to count Bill Skarsgård in this list if only for the fact that he’s an adult, but also because his most noteworthy films to date before this one include Atomic Blonde and Allegiant, neither of which were huge roles. This only leaves us with director Andy Muschietti, but there’s an argument to be made that this is his big directorial debut with a large budget (subjectively speaking, horror films don’t get big budgets, but this one had a $35 million budget).
What I’m trying to say is that the only thing that It had in terms of consumer interest was the fact that the movie is adapted by famous and well-loved author Stephen King. Furthermore, this was also a reboot of the 1990 adaptation, and Hollywood doesn’t exactly have a great track record in regards to reboots. What makes this film work, surprisingly, is the children. Sure, there are scares aplenty, but the movie spends a large portion focusing on the Losers’ Club, and those who are a part of the club. An argument can be made that not all seven Losers get as much screen time as the others (Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) doesn’t get nearly as much to do as his white friends, and I’m not sure if that’s an oversight on the script, or just because of the natural progression of the story as a whole), but that’s something I’m willing to let go if only for the fact that each of them are faced with their worst fears when confronted by Pennywise (Skarsgård manifests himself to them in an effort to drag them down to his home in the sewers). And because we spend so much time with the Losers, we’re treated to the story through their eyes, so that there is a sense of childlike naïveté and reckless abandon that comes with being a kid in the 80s. In this day and age you wouldn’t be allowed as much freedom as those kids were back then, especially if there was a monster disguising itself as a clown and abducting children.
Set in the fictional American town of Derry, Maine, It follows Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) as he tries to find his lost brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), after he goes missing. There aren’t many iconic moments in regards to It, but what makes them so brilliant is that they are sparsely used, so that when you see them you immediately associate them with the book/movie. And these aren’t moments so much as they are images. You have the image of Georgie in his yellow raincoat, which is set against the wet, drab, grey and dull background as he chases his boat down the running water in an effort to get the boat back before said boat disappears into the drainage system. The other iconic image is that of the red balloon that Pennywise holds up. Again, the brilliant red colour is set against an otherwise dreary backdrop, thus making the balloon stand out and draw your eye to the fore. Because of this, a second level of sharpness is created, and this just accentuates the otherwise seemingly mundane objects of a yellow raincoat and a red balloon. If you put those two things together you would automatically know what film is being referenced, without needing to add anything else at all. This is the brilliance of Stephen King, in how he is able to craft something so memorable from something so little. Furthermore, this is a testament to both Muschietti and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung.
If there is one thing that the movie suffers from at all, I would draw your attention to the subplot. This subplot involves a rather cliché storytelling trope, that of a bunch of schoolboy bullies who are usually a couple of years older than the protagonists and for reasons that are largely undisclosed are unapologetically a bit nuts. Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) is the thuggish leader of this group of four guys, all of whom adhere to the poisonous ‘laddish culture’ that is still sickeningly prevalent throughout the world. They stick by Bowers even when he goes a bit too far (he tries to engrave his name into Ben Hanscom’s (Jeremy Ray Taylor) flabby stomach, if only to teach him a lesson for the sole pathetic reason of ‘just because’). The movie paints Bowers as more than borderline psychotic, and even though later events are seemingly out of his control, there is no sympathy for this thug. We do learn the reasons behind his callousness and rage towards those whom he deems as being beneath him, but said reasons are almost painfully cliché, and one has to wonder if King could not have crafted a more rounded secondary antagonist, because his final scenes ultimately don’t have that much of an impact, much like the rest of his story. Yes, that’s a minor spoiler, but I will defend the spoiler if only to say that the almost banal subplot is actually banal all the way throughout, so at least there’s something positive to say about Bower’s story: consistency.
Considering how Pennywise is essentially the main character of the story (and certainly the main antagonist, without a shadow of a doubt), he isn’t in It as much as you would think. This is by no means a criticism, as Pennywise is used sparingly and only when necessary. The fact that he’s not overused is a testament to how well screenwriters Chase Palmer and Cary Joji Fukunaga adapted the first half of King’s epic novel. Pennywise crops up in a variety of different forms, but ultimately he manifests in his ‘natural’ form as a clown, terrorising the townspeople of Derry in a sadistic and satanic hunger-fuelled ritual in an effort to stay alive. There are some basic tropes throughout the movie, whereby certain scenes are framed in such a way in an effort to deliver some ‘cheap scares’, whereby there’s essentially no nuance or weight behind them, but the majority of the scenes where Pennywise goes full-on Pennywise, there’s no doubt that he is ultimately terrifying. If you’re afraid of clowns in any shape or form, then this is a film that you should stay away from, even if you’re impartial to reading King’s novels. Pennywise is realised with a traumatising clarity, and there are moments where you feel he could leap out of the screen and take you too (congratulations if you saw this in 3D). It is a brilliant movie on all fronts, delivering on scares and ratcheting up the suspense, so that nothing feels forced and out of place. There is a level of realism to Pennywise and the movie, so that you could close your eyes when you go to sleep and wonder if you’ll float too.
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