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IT (2017)

Review

135min

Genre:       Drama, Horror, Thriller

Director:    Andy Muschietti

Cast:         Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard…and more

Writers:     Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Stephen King… and more

-Synopsis-

When the children of Derry Maine start to mysteriously disappear, a group of 80s teenage outcasts are terrorised and hunted by a supernatural sinister being who takes the form of a clown and dwells in the sewers of their small town—forcing them to face their own deepest darkest fears in another adaptation of Stephen King’s classic horror novel.

Twenty-seven years after Tommy Lee Wallace first adapted the timelessly creepy fear fable for the small screen and awoke coulrophobia in the masses, Argentinean director Andy Muschietti (Mama) gives us a taste of his horror sensibilities and brings King’s masterful work to the big screen in style—putting the fear of clown into a whole new generation while entertaining audiences and critics alike.

‘IT’ features and ensemble cast of young teen actors who make up the central ‘Losers’ Club’; a group of high-school outcasts and misfits who band together to survive bullying and much more sinister persecution—featuring the brash mouthpiece of the troop ‘Richie’ (Finn Wolfhard) and timid stutterer ‘Bill’ (Jaeden Lieberher), whose baby brother’s disappearance sets off a campaign of psychological terror by ‘Pennywise’ the killer clown (Bill Skarsgård). As fearsome visions and impending doom rally the teens around new additions, including the brave heart of the group ‘Beverly’ (Sophia Lillis), the Losers’ Club struggles to unravel the mystery of their fearsome attacker and save their town from a horrific fate . . . while forming strong bonds and learning some harsh life-lessons along the way.

If you’re a fan of the original novel and/or the 1990 mini-series adaptation starring Tim Curry, and you fear yet another underwhelming modern Hollywood take on a memorable piece of your childhood—fear not, as this far from your typically ill-conceived and underwritten money-grubbing big studio remake.

Staying largely true to the novel, apart from omitting a couple of the more controversial scenes (like the mini-series did) and some of the cosmic elements, Muschietti and the writers expertly blend wonderfully foreboding and creepy horror with a classic American coming-of-age story and high-school drama with all the archetypal themes; from bullying to sexuality, family to friendship, but surprisingly featuring a healthy dose of cleverly written teenage humour and banter—all of which makes this ‘IT’ more than a horror/thriller . . . but may irk some horror ‘purists’.

Muschietti’s adaptation does take one major detour from the novel and indeed the 1990 mini-series, cleverly separating the alternating child and adult narratives of the Loser’s Club and their experiences into two time periods, focusing here only on the terror of their formative early teen years and leaving their middle-aged return to Derry—and a final showdown with Pennywise—for the inevitable sequel . . . or chapter two. Yet by changing the setting from the late 1950s to the 1980s, the filmmakers take advantage of the current cultural trend for 80s nostalgia, particularly with the fashion and music references, clearly taking a leaf (as well as one of its stars) out of the ‘Stranger Things’ book of style and narrative—which is ironic considering how much that show takes from Stephen King’s work . . . and many others’.

In terms of the look and sound of the film, ‘IT’ is top notch, featuring quality production and sound design, plus wonderful costumes and makeup, using mostly practical effects with subtle CGI which complements and augments without overwhelming. All of which combine with the cinematography from Chung-hoon Chung to make for some intense and gloriously unsettling visuals which you won’t soon forget, particularly when it comes to the creatively creepy treatments of the children’s nightmare/hallucination fear sequences.

But let’s not forget the eponymous clown creature himself, beautifully designed for maximum fear and squirm value—although it does slightly miss the point of the creature choosing the clown form for its alluring power over children—vividly brought to life by a potential star-making performance from the youngest of the Skarsgård acting clan, Bill.

Indeed the whole film is elevated and made whole by its performances, and in particular those of the young actors who make up the Losers’ Club, with everyone contributing to the undeniable collective chemistry of the group—but with Sophia Lillis as the sole source of female energy and brave heart of the group, and Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) as its brash mouth and spouter of best lines, particularly standing out and stealing virtually every scene they’re in.

While some horror aficionados may criticise Muschietti’s adaptation for blending plenty of charm and humour into the terror and perhaps diluting the sinister atmosphere, and others may bemoan a big studio treatment of King’s narrative which smoothes out the edges and is perhaps too self-aware—we say who cares when the result is this entertaining and well-rendered, and brings an increasingly inaccessible genre to the masses while entertaining them throughout. Just keep an open mind and let the delight and the terror sink in . . . and maybe you’ll float too.

The Bottom Line…

A stylish and expertly crafted blend of tense, butt-clenching supernatural horror which feeds on our deepest fears, and a surprisingly funny and endearing high-school outsider angst drama, ‘IT’ proves that Hollywood is at least occasionally capable of re-imagining classic fiction without sullying our memories of it—while entertaining the masses and making plenty of change . . . although the clowning community might not be so amused.

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Similar films you may like (Home Video)

IT (1990)

A group of former high-school misfit friends reunite thirty years after being terrorised by a child-snatching killer clown in their small home town, now determined to discover the dark supernatural truth behind ‘Pennywise’ the murderous clown and be free from the fear it feeds on once and for all, in this two-part TV mini-series adaptation of the classic Stephen King novel.

Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace and starring Richard Thomas, John Ritter and Annette O’Toole among others.

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