Patrick McKelvey | Thursday, September 14, 2017
“It” very well could have descended into being another unnecessary, uninspired adaptation of a Stephen King novel — a film meant to cash in on the good will of the 1990 version, getting lost in the spitfire of the many soon-to-be-released horror films as Halloween approaches — but it didn’t. The film surpasses all expectations. It has more heart than a movie advertised as a horror ever needed to, and I personally rank it among the best movies so far of 2017.
Director Andy Muschietti brings to life a rich and developed setting for the story: Stephen King’s sleepy, fictional town of Derry, Maine. “It” is Muschietti’s second horror film (in addition to 2013’s “Mama”), and already he has proven himself a master of suspense and terror. Through his directing, he elicits powerful performances from both his child actors and his adult actors, in particular from 27-year-old Swedish actor Billy Skarsgård as Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
Directing, however, isn’t the only thing that makes “It” as wonderful as it is. A tightly written screenplay by the team of Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman brings humor, wit and charm to what could otherwise have been a film as bleak and hopeless as its three-hour-long 1990 predecessor. The screenplay also doesn’t treat the protagonists like idiots (as so many horror movies do), but instead as intelligent children who willingly confront “It.” Benjamin Wallfisch’s score is haunting at every turn. Whether the increasingly fast and anxious refrains that serve to announce Pennywise is near or the gentle piano notes that create an eerie atmosphere all throughout Derry, music plays a criminally underrated part in the fright this movie brings to the table.
Arguably the most vital part of this film that allows it work as well and as efficiently as it does is the performances by the actors and actresses in it. Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie) and Finn Wolfhard (Richie) have an incredible chemistry throughout, which makes for some of the funniest and most upbeat moments in a film that is overwhelmingly frightening and sad. Likewise, Jaeden Lieberher (Billy) and Sophia Lillis (Beverly) portray teenagers going through traumatic experiences with a remarkable believability and depth that is often missing from even the most seasoned adult actors. All of the juvenile actors and actresses aside, however, Bill Skarsgård portrays the antagonist, Pennywise, absolutely brilliantly — from his infliction, to his gait, to his deeply unsettling eyes — he turns a figment of Stephen King’s imagination into a flesh on the silver screen.
As with most blockbusters, however, there are admittedly some moments that do not gel with the rest of the film. The third act and final battle against “It” feels rushed compared to the tempo of the rest of the film, and there are also a few out-of-place dancing scenes that try a little too hard to remind us the film takes place 28 years ago, in 1989. Perhaps, however, these scenes serve to remind us of our protagonists’ awkward and late-80s natures — after all, they did call themselves “the Losers’ Club.”
Like another classic film adaptation of a Stephen King novel, “Stand by Me,” the core of “It” is not horror or Pennywise the clown, but friendship. The film’s best moments come when we watch our protagonists together and see their interactions as best friends struggling against a greater cause. Muschietti captures perfectly the innocence of youth and the depth of the bonds we form with our early childhood friends. Together, these kids go through a harrowing experience, but they do not let fear define them. Their love for and trust in one another allows them to confront “It” when no one else in Derry will.
“It” stands out from the pack in an all-too-often poorly done genre. The film builds on the famous King novel and improves upon the 1990 adaptation to make an outstanding movie. It’s terrifying — but it’s also charming and undeniably funny. In the middle of its frights, its deeper messages may touch your heart, it may catalyze you to go reconnect with you childhood friends and it might make you want to read the faithfully followed book. One thing is for sure, however — “It” will keep you up at night.
Director: Andy Muschiett
Writers: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Sophia Lillis