Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer
In the small town of Derry, Maine, a number of children have gone missing over the years. With no bodies ever found, it becomes a haunting mystery that nobody has ever cracked. The most recent child to go missing in 1988 is George Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), younger brother of Bill (Lieberher).
Months later, Bill is determined to find Georgie alive and sets out to do with the help of his school friends – Ben (Taylor), Bev (Lillis), Richie (Wolfhard), Stan (Oleff), Mike (Jacobs) and Eddie (Grazer) – known as ‘The Losers Club’ for all their own little imperfections.
The Losers soon realise they are being hunted by a demonic entity in the guise of a sinister clown called Pennywise (Skarsgård) that starts to turn their lives into a living nightmare. Only by facing their fears together will they have a chance of surviving Pennywise’s reign of terror and discover the truth about the children of Derry…
Stepping out of a well established shadow thanks to the 1990 made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s classic horror novel ‘It’ and a career highlight performance by Tim Curry as Pennywise, New Line Cinema decided it was time to do so. 27 years later. Nice move.
With a big-screen budget, a solid cast and crew and more freedom, director Andy Muschietti brings us a film adaptation based on the novel itself and not a remake of the TV movie. Yes, there are a few small, affectionate winks to the Tim Curry Pennywise of the nineties, but in all the camp performance is scrapped, the out-dated special effects are enhanced and the film delivers an overall more unsettling, grim but heart-warming story that is a coming-of-age drama first, horror second.
Clocking in at a good 125mins, the film doesn’t suffer pacing issues until the final act sadly where things seem to slow down, take a turn for the repetitive and stalls now and then as it dishes out token horror genre tactics for a slightly underwhelming ending. I had to start with the main negative for me so it’s out the way. I haven’t read the novel as yet, but I will bet how faithful the ending is, I just felt it seemed to have less of an impact than the rest of the story. Still gave us what we wanted, but felt a little too “safe”.
Bar that, there is little else to pick apart on, regardless of how I could try. I don’t even want to. It comes over as ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘The Goonies’ for a new, mature generation laced with the nightmarish horror of ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’. All these elements blend as one to deliver a really fresh, enjoyable and haunting new horror that stands out to me as one of the best in recent years. I don’t even enjoy horror thanks to a modern genre now obsessed with blood, guts, gore, and lazy stories, so seeing my second ever horror in the cinema (‘The Final Destination’ was the first), I was so pleased to see one that didn’t resort to anything crass, gratuitous or lazy in any aspect, from the story to the effects to the acting.
From a grim opening that will go down, and already did go down in 1990, as a chilling moment in horror, the acts of one Pennywise the clown will leave your skin crawling, heart thumping and nerves tingling when you see his presence. Thankfully Skarsgård isn’t over-used and in doing so becomes an underlying threat we never forget; we know he is there, somewhere, but never know in what guise he will appear. In a performance that is akin to Heath Ledger’s Joker, Skarsgård creates a new era of a killer clown for us all to be spooked out by, and you only see Pennywise, never Skarsgård himself. A contained but memorable performance indeed who holds the film together, on or off-screen.
The scares come as you may expect – the jump scare. The music dies, the character goes quiet, things are calm in an uneasy situation. Then BOOM. The uncomfortable soundtrack screeches to life from composer Benjamin Wallfisch and the unsettling glimpses of the nightmare flash on screen in disorientating, uncomfortable proximity thanks to cinematography Chung-hoon Chung. And as quick as the initial scares are assaulting you, we are right back to everyday Maine, America as if nothing happened – bar your palms are sweaty and you try to laugh of the nervous fright you’ve had, and know there’s more to come.
Pennywise and the crew handle the horror. The Losers Club handle the drama.
A superb youth ensemble cast if there ever was one, headed by young Jaden Lieberher, this talented group of actors let us into their character’s worlds of abusive parents, bullying, health worries, and school-yard crushes. Everything we as viewers can relate to. They are the real kids of America who should spend summer swimming in lakes or watching ‘Batman’ in the multiplex, but instead, they are growing old before their time, facing their fears both in reality and in their dreams, and causing us to laugh and cry with them.
Each child brings something to the story and each child is played brilliantly. Stand-outs for me were Taylor as Ben and Lillis as Marsh, just for the way they came across initially, but they are all great acting talent and represent so much about the audience and era they live in; the perfect antidote to brutal bullies and murderous clowns.
Will they wait 27 years for the guaranteed sequel? No, but they should just to be authentic. There is a final journey to tell with these Losers, and I can’t wait to see it play out. As horror adaptations go, this will rank as one of the best. It’s a horror with heart. It’s a drama with terror. It’s everything you want a film fronted by a demonic clown to be, and it stands alone as it’s own telling, not a pastiche of the TV movie.
Watch it. You love dancing clown’s don’t you? And popcorn! Pop pop pop!
We all float down here.