Review - IT (2017)

IT (2017), R, 2h 15min - A month ago, just a few short days before this film arrived in theaters, soon to destroy September and R-rated horror box office records, I had little to no interest in seeing this new adaptation of Stephen King's classic novel.  I had somehow managed to overlook the fact that IT had been directed by Andy Muschietti, whose feature length film debut had been one that my wife and I both enjoyed (2013's Mama).  Maybe this oversight was due in part to a slight name change (Muschietti had previously been credited as Andrés), or maybe I'm just a moron.  More likely, it was a combination of the two.  In any event, I found myself suddenly very interested in the film as did my wife. We decided that we would wait to rent IT so that we could avoid obnoxious crowds that often frequent horror releases.  Since we had decided to wait, I thought that I'd take advantage of that delay and familiarize myself with King's original novel.  What I didn't realize until I had my hands on a copy of the paperback at the local Barnes & Noble was that IT was a whopping 1150 pages.  My heart sank a little because despite my enjoyment of reading, I have never been a very quick reader.  Apparently there was little reason for me to worry though.  Once I started I was immediately sucked into the story, and I couldn't put the book down.  For three weeks, if I wasn't at work, spending time with my wife, mowing, or taking care of the pets, my face was buried in IT.  This readathon inadvertently led to the lack of activity here on the blog for the last, so please allow me to apologize for that.  After seeing how quickly I had actually finished the book, my wife told me to go ahead and see the movie because I had obviously enjoyed it.  That brings us up to last Sunday, when I saw IT much earlier than I had originally anticipated.

Muschietti's IT takes place in the late '80s in the small town of Derry, Maine.  There has been a rash of unsolved murders/missing persons cases, including the death of George Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), younger brother of Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), better known around school as Stuttering Bill because of the stutter he developed after George's passing.  As school lets out for the summer, a town-wide curfew has been put into effect in an effort to combat the violence that has a stranglehold on the town.  Bill and his close friends Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), and Stan (Wyatt Oleff) go about trying to enjoy their summer while attempting to avoid crossing paths with school bully Henry (Nicholas Hamilton) and his partners in crime Belch (Jake Sim), Patrick (Owen Teague), and Victor (Logan Thompson).  This is easier said than done in a small town during a time when kids were often left to roam and entertain themselves with little adult supervision (curfew or no).  In fact, Bill's social circle grows by three thanks in part to mutual efforts in avoiding Henry's terror that summer.  Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), and Mike (Chosen Jacobs) all become part of  'The Losers Club'.  As the group hangs out more and more, they learn that all seven of them have had horrific, traumatic, supernatural-like experiences involving a creepy clown calling himself Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).  This knowledge brings them even closer together as they realize that they are not alone, nor are they crazy, as each of them had feared.  The Losers Club is virtually inseparable as the summer goes on, and they eventually come to the conclusion that Pennywise is the cause of all of the horrific deaths and disappearances around town as well as being something more than just a murderous, psychopathic clown.  Since none of the adults seem to be taking any real action, the group decides to take it upon themselves to put an end to the dancing clown's reign of terror.

IT makes a few changes to King's original story (which I'll discuss in more detail in the spoiler section below), but they work really well for the way that Muschietti tells the story on screen.  He pieces these changes together with a number of scenes lifted perfectly from the source material to make a wonderfully fun, nostalgic, creepy thriller.  The chemistry between the kids is great and absolutely nails the feel of their camaraderie from the book and the looming sense of terror from both Pennywise and Henry's gang is palpable, even if there aren't really any jump out of your seat moments.   

I'm really glad that I read the book before seeing this film.  In hindsight, I have little doubt that I would have enjoyed the movie anyway, but I feel like I have an even greater appreciation for how well it adapts not just the story itself, but the all of the characterizations as well.  I actually finished the book last Saturday evening, then watched the 1990 IT mini-series before seeing this version Sunday afternoon, but that's a story for another time (or maybe the spoiler section below).  I mention it here mostly as another point of reference.  Stephen King's work has proven to be quite difficult to adapt to film over the years, and IT is a wonderful example of that difficulty.  Muschietti's new film is infinitely better than the made-for-tv adaptation, and is well worthy of all of the acclaim that it's received.  The end credits dubbed this film as Chapter I, and Chapter II has already been announced for early September 2019 (also to be directed by Muschietti).  I am very much looking forward to the sequel as it will likely tell the other half of King's tale - The Losers Club's return to Derry as adults - which wasn't touched on at all in this film.

If you enjoy films of the horror/thriller genre (but like me and don't do slasher flicks), IT is the perfect film for you.  And if you grew up in the '80s at all, this film will hit all the right spots: it's creepy, intense, nostalgic, and even comedic at times.  I absolutely loved IT (as I did the book) and will be adding it to the nerd vault as soon as I'm able.












*****SPOILERS*****

- I remember seeing a copy of IT on a coffee table/nightstand at my aunt and uncle's house when I was a kid (I was maybe seven or eight) and being creeped out by the cover, the one with a clawed hand reaching up out of a sewer drain for a folded paper boat.  That cover along with Stephen King's reputation for being a horror master was enough to dissuade me from reading the book for years.  I'm glad I finally read it though.  I'm trying really hard to take into account potential recency bias, but it very well may be one of my favorite books after the one read.  Maybe I'll be able to be on the ball enough to give it a second read through in preparation for Chapter II.

- As I mentioned, after finishing the book and before watching this film, I took the time to watch the 1990 ABC mini-series starring Tim Curry (Pennywise), John Ritter (adult Ben), Harry Anderson (adult Richie), Annette O'Toole (adult Beverly), Richard Thomas (adult Bill), Tim Reid (adult Mike), Jonathan Brandis (young Bill), and Seth Green (young Richie).  I know that it was made for network tv, and ABC at that (kind of a funny choice for a horror adaptation what with being the 'family' network and all), but it does not hold up well at all.  I don't mind changes being made if/when they make sense or add something to the story, but some of the changes made in the mini-series just made me scratch my head.  I obviously didn't see it when it first came out (I was only eleven), I have to wonder if that late '80s-early '90s cheesy horror played well for adults at the time?  The high point was definitely Curry's performance as Pennywise, that and seeing a number of familiar faces that reminded me of watching other things while growing up.

- 27 years have passed since the 1990 mini-series, so the release of this film mimics the recurring cycle of IT.

- The original story tells its tale of The Losers Club as children in the late 1950's and as adults in the mid 1980's (the book was released in 1986).  This film has shifted the story to a more modern setting, with Chapter I taking place in the late 1980's.  With the main events taking place during the summer of 1989 and IT's cycle of terror repeating every 27 years, that would presumably set the events of Chapter II in 2016 (a hair behind present day by the time it is released in 2019).

- I've never really had any problem with clowns, that being said Bill Skarsgård's version of Pennywise is definitely the creepier of the two live-action portrayals in my opinion.  Of course, the newer incarnation benefits from some special effects advancements from the last 27 years.

- IT actually takes the form of whatever someone's greatest fear is (and feeds off of the emotions and fear of its victim), but most frequently appears in the guise of Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

- There are some relatively small roll changes within The Losers Club when compared to the book, but in my opinion, they all work well for this adaptation.  The rolls of Bill, Eddie, Richie, and Stan are pretty much unchanged, but the rolls of Ben, Mike and Beverly get some tweaks.  Ben is now the Derry historian instead of Mike.  At first I was afraid that this change was going to minimize Mike's importance to the group, but that was made up for by his becoming the provider of the weapon used to combat Pennywise.  Beverly's roll is changed the most but allows her to still be the force that unifies The Losers Club without the really weird, awkward, sex scene that takes place in the book.  Instead of being the one to kill Pennywise, she is captured by the dancing clown and the others band together to get her back.  I was also a bit worried about Beverly having been made 'the damsel in distress', but upon further thought, it could actually play out pretty brilliantly.  Doing so allows them to plant the seed for how someone can be brought back from the 'deadlights' - a catatonic state brought on by the shock of witnessing Pennywise's true form.  Ben's true love's kiss brought Beverly back and, assuming that Chapter II explores The Losers Club's return to Derry as adults, could nicely sets up Bill bringing Audra (his wife) back from Pennywise's clutches at the end of the story.

- I really enjoyed the change in the scene from the book where Pennywise reveals himself to the group as a whole.  In the book, they are flipping through an old photo album and in the film they are using a slide projector to look at an old map of the sewers.  It just works out really well for the live action adaptation.

- Having grown up in New Hampshire during that time, I loved little details like Ben being a fan of New Kids on the Block.  The NKOTB originated from the Boston area and they were big time everywhere in New England as a result.  Everyone under the age of fifteen was a fan, boy or girl, whether they openly admitted it or not.

- At one point in time Richie asks "Who invited Molly Ringwald to The Losers Club anyway!?", in regards to Beverly, which was a fun, nostalgic 1980s reference.   

- The names of films like Batman, Lethal Weapon 2 can be seen on the movie theater marquee when the kids are running around town during the summer of 1989.

- All of the adults in Derry seem to be, or are 'off'.  Beverly's dad is abusive, Eddie's mom is overly protective (in an unhealthy way), adult's turn an eye to violence between kids, and the local pharmacist was even portrayed as being a bit of a creep.  This all helps illustrate a prevailing theme throughout King's book: the idea that IT is everywhere and has seeped into Derry's very essence.

- The same television show is playing in the background on a number of occasions, the odd gameshow-like program that urged Henry to kill his father.  It can be scene in the background at both Eddie's and Beverly's homes.

- The Barrens plays a smaller roll in the film than in the book.  The Losers Club still plays there and come together as a group via the rock fight with Henry's gang, but they enter the sewers via the old well house beneath 29 Neibolt Street as opposed to an access point in the Barrens.

- There are a couple references to a turtle: once when The Losers Club is swimming in the quarry, and once as a Lego-like figure on the nightstand in George's room.  This is a nod to the original source material and could be an allusion to an even greater mystical/inter-dimensional element from King's story that may be explored in Chapter II.

- If Richie looks familiar, it's because he's played by Finn Wolfhard, who also plays Mike Wheeler on Stranger Things.  It is actually kind of fun seeing him play the loudmouth who says inappropriate things as he plays a more level-headed, leader character on that show.

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