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It (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Combo Pack)
The horror thriller “IT,” directed by Andrés Muschietti (“Mama”), is based on the hugely popular Stephen King novel of the same name, which has been terrifying readers for decades. When children begin to disappear in the town of Derry, Maine, a group of young kids is faced with their biggest fears when they square off against an evil clown named Pennywise, whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries.]]>
- The Losers' Club
- Author of Fear
- Deleted Scenes
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And what does SK have against Derry, anyway? He's written so much horror in Derry, never mind that it's a fictional town, his personal sandbox of grotesqueries. I read IT years and years ago when I was a kid, and it terrified me the same way THE EXORCIST terrified me. IT is my favorite SK read, and not just because it was my first ever SK novel. It is genuinely haunting and moving and gives you that feeling of worms squirming in your belly. I relished the heck out of the 1990 ABC teleplay; At the time, I thought Tim Curry as the over-the-top Pennywise was the best thing ever.
But the 2017 version is better. Sure, because more years had gone by, they had to move up the time frame. Instead of the young Losers Club story arc set in 1957-1958, it's now set in 1988-1989. So, less Norman Rockwell, more, I dunno, Bob Ross? Doesn't matter. The screen remains redolent of old timey nostalgia and pulp fiction, of walkmans and poofy hair and leg warmers and sequels to A Nightmare on Elm Street.
I do think seven kids may have been too many. I think Stanley got short-shrifted some. There are actually folks out there who believe that the Losers Club apes the gang from STRANGER THINGS when, really, it's the other way around. Now, if you'd mentioned THE GOONIES or STAND BY ME (which adapted SK's novella THE BODY), maybe you've a leg to stand on since those came before IT.
Luckily, Finn Wolfhard, who is a leading character in STRANGER THINGS, plays a different role in IT. Beep, beep, Richie. Gratifyingly, these characters are drawn sharply enough that they don't feel clichéd.
What do you need to know? After a bone-chilling preamble in 1988, the story proper kicks off the year after. 1989, and school's done, and, in the New England town of Derry, the kid folks are stoked about the start of their summer vacay. Except for the four members of the Losers Club. Their leader is Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) who stutters and nurses an almighty guilt for his little brother's disappearance the year before. Bill's idea of a pastime activity is, um, unconventional.
Thru the fullness of time - or during the first third of the movie - three more children get folded into the Losers Club: a black kid, a fat kid, and a girl with a bad reputation. And it doesn't matter much that time was shifted from 1959 to 1989 because this iteration covers the same beats. Observe the Losers Club as they play in the Barrens and creep into the sewers and such. Watch them fight back as a cohesive unit against the bullies that target them individually. See the Losers Club, the seven of 'em, be easy pickings for the scariest clown ever.
Someone did a study once. In Derry, people die or disappear six times the average of anywhere else - and those are just the grown-ups. For the kids, the statistic skews much, much worse. In Derry, it happens every 27 years, an epidemic of vanished children. And Derry is in one of those right now.
By the way, the original IT mini-series came out in 1990. This new IT came out in 2017. 27 years later. Freaky.
IT delivers a terrifying slice of Americana, which is Stephen King's jam. The movie plays with atmosphere and tension. It's really not about the jump scares. It's about the mood. The plot is basically about how Pennywise psychologically messes with everyone on account of he feeds off his victims' torment. The clown's insidious presence is palpable. There's a pervading sense of dread. I ate up the creepy side characters, whether it's the inappropriate pharmacist or Ben at the library with that creeper librarian just out of focus in the background. Someone smart did the score that serves to build up that sense of unease. I'll say that old English nursery rhyme, "Oranges and Lemons," has never sounded more sinister.
It's very good acting. The kids were so good, and Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise brings a quality of "otherness" that Tim Curry's gleeful take didn't quite get up to. There were moments in which Skarsgård would be doing a colorful bit à la Tim Curry but then would suddenly just drop the act to revert to this dead-eyed otherness.
This is an R-rated sphincter-clencher. It's rampant with scenes of children being traumatiized, and not only supernaturally. There is hair-raising imagery and petrifying freak-out moments, and they're not all front and center. Some are kept in the background, some are subtle, some you think you saw but aren't sure. They all feed into your growing sense of unease. And the kids drop profanity like normal kids tend to do. They make ridiculous brags that half the time they're not even sure what they're talking about. These kids are hilarious.
The nitpicks are few. Is it a nitpick when I say that the movie gets so intense that it's exhausting? And emotionally draining? I was wrung out by the end. I guess there's Bill's hypocrisy, when, as the Losers Club was about to brave the big bad's lair, he espouses the merit of staying together, and yet the moment he sees Georgie he takes off on his own. Maybe my biggest gripe is that Beverly is kidnapped by Pennywise to serve as bait for the Losers Club. This didn't happen in the book. It deprives Beverly her agency. It's frustrating because, in a previous scene, she'd just held her own against her monstrous dad.
Speaking of stuff that's been changed from book to movie:
- Movie Georgie's body isn't found; in the book it was
- Movie Ben is the library researcher, and not Mike
- In the movie, there's no talking to the Turtle - there are turtle sightings sprinkled throughout the movie
- In the movie, no sewer orgy (this is a good thing)
But, overall, from book to movie, it's not such a radical departure. If you haven't heard yet, this is only chapter one, and it focuses on the Losers Club when they were kids. No doubt, the sequel will dive into the other bits of the book which are the chapters of the Losers Club as adults. Thing is, for me, the adult versions of the Losers Club made up the more boring bits of the book. We'll see if the screenplay spices it up. We'll see if we get the sweeping Lovecraftian element so absent in this first chapter.