Home > Reviews > REVIEW – It (2017)

REVIEW – It (2017)

Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Produced by: Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg, Barbara Muschietti
Screenplay by: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman
Edited by: Jason Ballantine
Cinematography by: Chung-hoon Chung
Music by: Benjamin Wallfisch
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Owen Teague, Stephen Bogaert, Jackson Robert Scott
Based on the novel It by Stephen King
Year: 2017


I always seem to preface these types of reviews with this, but it bears remarking again: Horror remakes are rarely successful and rarely a good idea, and the trailers for this 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a transdimensional being taking on the form of a malevolent clown who terrorizes children was looking to be just one more film on the pile of crappy remakes, reboots, and reimaginings we’ve been getting since the turn of the century. The emphasis on jump scares, the hammered-into-your-brain catchphrases, creepy horror children, and the audacity to challenge the immortal Tim Curry’s portrayal from the miniseries with a gritty new take on the clown really didn’t work in the film’s favor. This was particularly worrisome, as the film with the film had been in development hell for approximately six years due to creative conflicts before finally moving forward in production in its final form, releasing two years after that. As someone who had never seen the cheesy 3-hour-long miniseries, let alone read the 1000+ page novel, however, I was at least open to the idea that this could at least provide an easy gateway into a cultural touchstone I really had little prior interest in touching myself. Turns out…I was totally right, but not in the way I thought.

Moving the story from the 1950s to the 1980s (and thereby ensuring the film was more culturally relevant to modern audiences) and removing the back-and-forth storytelling to focus exclusively on the childhood portions of the original novel, It nonetheless follows the same story beats we expect, beginning with the prologue of little Georgie Denbrough’s fateful encounter with Pennywise the Dancing Clown. One year later, 1989, Georgie’s older brother Bill remains convinced that his little brother may still be alive somewhere, despite his parents’ insistence that Georgie is dead and gone forever. Bill is still guilt-ridden over the incident, believing he could have prevented it from ever happening had he been with Georgie instead of being sick in bed. His group of friends, calling themselves The Loser’s Club, try to support Bill and keep his spirits up as they head into the summer break, but the cloud of Georgie’s disappearance continues to hang over them as an unusual number of children continue to go missing for such a small town, and the adults seem to show little interest in investigating their true cause. Led by Bill and joined by two newcomers to the group, Beverly and Mike, the Losers decide to take matters into their own hands, not realizing just what kind of force they’re going up against.

Let me just say that I wasn’t prepared for how well this film would work on a thematic level. While Pennywise is undoubtedly the more iconic visage of the villain, the clown is hardly the only form that it takes, instead preying upon the kids’ individual fears, making both the rational and irrational ones almost imperceptible from one another to them. Most adults will acknowledge that clowns can be (or just flat out are) creepy, but few would actually call them terrifying on the same level as children. The fear is no less real to them, however, than the fear of falling in love, losing a loved one, catching an incurable and fatal disease, being in the presence of someone who hurts you on a regular basis, or just being powerless to make change happen. It is ultimately as much a coming-of-age story as it is a horror film, and these kids are on the cusp of beginning the transition from adolescence into adulthood, so it makes sense that these various fears will intermingle and manifest themselves all at once in the forms this fear-consuming creature takes on.

Luckily, the young cast is more than up to the task of making all this work, even if the movie itself doesn’t always entirely come off as terrifying to us. We take it seriously because the actors (and the filmmakers) take it seriously in service of the characters, and that is what ultimately makes this new adaptation work so well. Every single one of these actors is great, and each kid has a distinct personality, with none of them ever feeling too much like a manufactured movie kid to be distracting.

Jaeden Lieberher, who plays Bill, has been proving himself as a great young dramatic actor for a while now and is no different here. It’s also notable that his portrayal of Bill’s stutter seems completely natural, never feeling like a cheap acting trick meant to impress. Finn Wolfhard has also now been on the radar thanks to taking the lead in the similarly-themed Stranger Things last year, but the smack-talking Richie is a far cry from his work as the more emotionally sensitive Mike Wheeler on that show, and it’s easy to say that Wolfhard deservedly steals the show a number of times as the group’s comic relief. Jack Dylan Grazer does come close, however, as the hypochondriac Eddie, and there’s something to be said about the sweetness of Jeremy Ray Taylor’s lovelorn Ben and Wyatt Oleff’s role as Stan, the necessary straightman to the comedic foils.

However, it’s definitely Sophia Lillis as Beverly, the sole girl in the group, who gets the star-making turn here. There’s quite a bit of sensitive material that her character is dealing with, and Lillis instills Beverly with strength, charm, vulnerability, and intelligence that keeps it from feeling like exploitation on the filmmaker’s part. (That this excises that one particular, much-talked-about and misguided-sounding scene between her and the boys from the novel helps, but there’s still a bit of a regressive alteration in the finale involving her character that I won’t spoil here.) These “girl amongst guys” characters are often accused of being Mary Sue-types, but Lillis’ sensitive and realistic portrayal of this tortured character should hopefully keep any such accusations at bay.

I only wish the same could be said of Chosen Jacobs’ character, Mike, seemingly the only black kid in the small town of Derry, Maine. This is by no means a fault of the actor, who is as good in the role as everyone else is in theirs. That his role as the group’s bookworm and historian was instead transferred to that of Ben, who already has his own stuff going on, is honestly kind of baffling, and that he’s missing for large portions of the film is also a very strange decision. He is meant to be an outcast, sure, but there should be a sense of camaraderie between him and his new friends that just doesn’t come off in the final product, which is seriously a shame.

This latest version of It is by no means as perfect, as the latest hype would seem to suggest, but it is an extremely creepy good time that rises well above merely being yet another crowd-pleasing horror nostalgia trip by actually having fully fleshed-out characters, resonant themes, and an excellent cast. That it’s also willing remain R-rated route and put kids through sometimes unexpectedly dark situations is also commendable, as too often child characters in these types of movies are in a relative safe zone, both in their own actions and what happens to them. The overall look of the film and its visual effects are also impressive, and while Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise may not ultimately resonate in pop culture as much as Tim Curry’s vamping in the miniseries, after having now seen both adaptations before writing this review, I can honestly say that Skarsgård’s is the most genuinely scary and, therefore, my preferred version.

The same can easily be said for this film in general, too. That may sound like damning it with faint praise, but this is definitely one instance where the retelling is easily preferable in leaps and bounds over the original, in much the same way that John Carpenter’s The Thing significantly overshadows 1951’s The Thing from Another World. Of course, there’s still the fact that there’s the inevitable second part coming down the line (What? You thought they would ignore the adult portion and the chance at making more money?!), but if they’re as smart as they were with this first part – while ensuring it’s a complete story in itself, as this film is, and maybe even fixing some of these problems – there’s a good chance that these It films may become horror movie classics. … You know, for all the right reasons.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5

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