Nutshell: This reboot/remake of the 1990 TV miniseries has a different feel to it, but dammit if it doesn’t pack a punch. A young cast full of poised-to-break-out stars, a director who knows how to handle the spooky, and a killer score adds up to a film horror hounds will be welcoming with open arms. We all float here, and the water’s fine. Grade: A-
“Welcome to the Losers Club!”
Story: Derry, Maine is your typical sleepy little American town. Except for the fact that kids go missing every 27 years. A LOT of kids go missing every 27 years. Nobody in town seems to really notice, or pay it much mind though. That seems legit. But when a group of tween outcasts realize they’re all seeing similar spooky things? They band together to take down Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Yeah clown. Yep, creeps me the hell out too.
Genre I’d put it in: Successful Stephen King adaptations
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the novel by Stephen King, a reboot/remake of the 1990 TV miniseries.
Gotta say: I dreaded this film. When I heard that It was scheduled for a shiny new movie adaptation, I worried. Could anyone be as terrifying as Tim Curry’s Pennywise? How could they manage to fit all that story into a single film? And would all the supernatural and otherworldly things come off as CGI overkill? This week I realized that 1) Bill Skarsgård definitely brought his horror A-Game as the infamous killer clown from outer space, 2) this adaptation will actually be two separate films, with the “modern day” story coming later, and 3) sure there’s a lot of CGI here, but it all fits in beautifully and looks…natural? Supernatural? It looks great.
Director Andy Muschietti (Mama) manages to combine a coming-of-age story with a knock-down drag-out spookfest. To put it in Stephen King terms, think Stand By Me meets Salem’s Lot. (But with only one monster. Trust me, in this story Pennywise is enough.)
And as Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård does Tim Curry proud. There’s less of the goofy humor and more of the straight-up shock in this story, and Skarsgård’s work in Hemlock Grove seems to have honed his ability to play the quiet horror long game…until it’s time to unleash the beast. Literally; the FX creature shop for this film has created a slew of ghastlies, including several Pennywise transformations that are delightfully horrific.
The Losers Club actors look like a Who’s Who of up-and-coming young talent, delivering performances actors twice their age would kill to achieve. Jaeden Lieberher blends fear, strength and determination as Bill Denbrough, the boy whose search for his missing brother Georgie starts the Losers on the search for Pennywise. As Beverly Marsh, the lone girl of the group, Sophia Lillis is a lovely tomboy who acts tough but is unsure and burdened by the weight of her life at home. Lillis definitely has stage presence, and I’m guessing this will be the first of many films where she steals every scene she’s in.
Stranger Things‘ Finn Wolfhard plays Ritchie Tozier, and it’s a more laid-back version of the jokester from the novel and miniseries. But it fits, and Wolfhard does deliver the best line of the film…which I won’t spoil here. You’re welcome. I’d have liked to have seen more of Chosen Jacobs as Mike Hanlon, the lone person of color in the group, and in the novels the person who acts as the glue that keeps the Losers together over the years…but that’s because Jacobs has a quiet but powerful presence onscreen, and I’d have liked to have seen more of it. The character isn’t particularly shortchanged, as the film has seven leads to wrangle. But he does get what I consider the creepiest introduction to Pennywise…
Benjamin Wallfisch (Hidden Figures, Blade Runner 2049) crafts a score that goes from sweet summertime nostalgia to all-out terror effortlessly. It’s a beautifully creepy companion to the screenplay, where Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman cherry-pick from King’s huge novel and come away with scenes that are poignant, sweet, creepy and horrifying. Then Muschietti cuts it all together and delivers the goods. Oh, and shout out to the art department and set design – everything here is on point. From the late 80’s styles everyone sports (it is set in 1989 after all) to the dank, cobwebby and gritty places Pennywise calls home, I could almost feel the rot and dust. Delightfully creepy, and to quote The Dude, really ties the room together.
My only complaint? The scenes where the Losers and Pennywise throw down can be very jumpy and messy. I fought myself between wanting to see what was happening, and wanting to close my eyes because all the shakey-cam and jump-cuts were making my eyes sad. Otherwise? It takes the top spot on the Stephen King film adaptations list. I couldn’t be more happy to be proven wrong. It is good, and effective as hell. Scary as hell too. Bravo.
#Protip: Fans of the original will want to keep an eye out for a clown doll that looks a lot like Tim Curry’s Pennywise. Hint – it’s in a room full of clowns. So you’ve got your work cut out for you. (But if I could find it, you will too.)