‘It: Chapter One’ Review

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Our Rating

Floating Red Balloons9
9

Send in the clowns…

It’s the late 80’s in a small New England town. A group of bullied and abused kids band together to fight an ancient evil that’s hunting the children of the town, disguised as a clown called ‘Pennywise’

“How do you solve a problem like Stephen King?”, asked no-one ever. One of the worlds most popular and successful living writers, King has provided a rich seam for film and television producers over the years, who have often sought to adapt his phenomenally successful work at the first opportunity, with varying degrees of success. On the one hand, there are acknowledged modern classics, such as ‘The Shining‘, The Shawshank Redemption‘ and ‘Stand By Me‘, as well as cult classics, such as ‘The Dead Zone‘, ‘Christine‘ and ‘The Running Man‘. And there’s also a good helping of tripe as well, chief amongst them the barely coherent ‘Dreamcatcher‘ and the recently released ‘The Dark Tower‘, a movie based on Kings most epic work that was years in the making, only to be released to scathing reviews and tepid box office. Indeed, the epic nature of much of Kings work means that it more often finds a more natural home on television in the form of a miniseries, where the many complicated plot strands have more time to develop naturally. ‘The Stand‘, ‘The Tommyknockers‘ and ‘The Langoliers‘, along with many others have been produced this way, and like the cinema adaptations, some are very good and some are not so. Falling into the ‘quite good’ category is the first adaptation of ‘It‘. Produced by ABC in 1990, the series was a big hit on it’s original broadcast, and retains a loyal following to this day, primarily due to the incredible performance by Tim Curry as ‘Pennywise The Dancing Clown‘, the primary manifestation of It throughout the story. Curry’s performance is rightly lauded as one of the all-time great horror performances, and has probably done terminal harm to the birthday party clown industry (which can only be a good thing), but as is the way with Hollywood a new adaptation of ‘It’ has been on the cards for a number of years. Originally being developed by first David Kajganich and then Cary Fukunaga, who got as far as casting Will Poulter as Pennywise, the movie has finally reached the big screen under the guidance of Andy Muschietti, an Argentinian director mainly known for the underrated 2013 Jessica Chastain starrer ‘Mama‘. Has Muschietti done a good job? let’s find out…

The first thing I’ll say is that, considering he wasn’t involved from the beginning, Muschietti has done an excellent job in bringing his vision to the screen. Although the script is still credited to Fukunaga (along with Chase Palmer and Gary Dauberman), it’s been widely reported that significant revisions have taken place (mainly by Dauberman and Muschietti), including the removal of one particularly controversial scene that readers of the book may be familiar with that, even in todays ‘enlightened’ times, would be difficult to film without upsetting lot of people. What remains is relatively faithful to the source material, although the setting has been updated from the ’50’s to the late ’80’s. As such, this has also resulted in some minor alterations to the storylines of some characters, with the very ’50’s based fears of the original novel replaced by more up-to-date ones. These manifestations of It are brought to the screen using a combination of live-action and CGI, and it mostly works very well, with the twisted painting that terrorises young Jewish kid Stan Uris an unpleasant stand-out. All these creatures, however, pale into insignificance compared to It’s most famous form, that of Pennywise. If you already have an issue with clowns (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) then his appearance here, all long limbs, weird angles and an off-kilter smile, will do nothing to help you deal with it. And if you’re one of those foolish people who claims that they are completely okay with clowns, then this should put paid to that resilience. I’ll talk about casting later, but suffice it to say that Bill Skarsgard (son of Stellan, and cast after Will Poulter dropped out), is superb as Pennywise, using all of his gangly 6ft 4in frame, along with an incredibly creepy make-up and costume job, to convey all of the malice and sheer evil of a creature that eats children in the same way you or I might eat a biscuit, namely often. Put simply, he’s bloody terrifying.

The setting for these horrific events is key to the story (like most of King’s stories, it all takes place in a small town in Maine), and this is another area where the film does well. Taking place in the fictional town of Derry (although actually filmed in Port Hope, Ontario), the picturesque town is as much a character in the story as any of the kids, or even Pennywise himself. It’s a beautiful place to look at, with tree-lined avenues and well-kept colonial style buildings nestling alongside majestic forests and rivers, giving the impression of a perfect town, and the ideal place to raise a family. And of course, it’s all a complete lie. Despite it’s beauty, despite it’s seemingly welcoming nature, Derry is a town with a dark tragic past, where great disasters occur with frightening regularity (roughly every 27 years), children go missing, never to be seen or heard from again, and adults act like nothing is wrong, desperately trying to ignore the evil in front of their eyes. Not-to-mention the fact that there’s a centuries-old demonic entity from another dimension living underneath the town. I don’t think even Kirstie Allsopp could convince you that moving here would be a good idea…

It’s why, when something resembling heroes are required, It falls upon the children of the town to step up. And these are not the cool kids either. Much like in ‘Stranger Things‘, to which you feel this owes a fair debt, these kids exist on the edge of things, bullied, abused, poor, or just ignored, no-one’s idea of saviours. Which is why they’re perfect for the job. While things are initially deeply personal for group leader Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) after his younger brother Georgie is taken by Pennywise he, along with the rest of The Losers Club as they come to call themselves, gradually realise the size of the fight in front of them, and the true scope of the evil underneath their town. The adults either don’t know or don’t care, and the other kids in town, personified in mullet-sporting bully Henry Bowers and is gang, are too busy being horrible to the main characters to help. Considering their importance, the casting of the Losers Club is tremendously important, and Muschietti has come up trumps. Alongside Lieberher we have Jeremy Ray Taylor as overweight introvert Ben, Finn Wolfhard as joker Ritchie, Chosen Jacobs as African-American outsider Mike, Jack Dylan Grazer as hypochondriac Eddie, Wyatt Oleff as thoughtful Stanley and Sophia Lillis as Beverly, the one gal among the guys. Although relatively unknown (Lieberher featured in indie sci-fi ‘Midnight Special‘, while Wolfhard will be familiar to fans of the afore-mentioned ‘Stranger Things‘), all of them are excellent, infusing each character with individual quirks and traits that will be a real challenge to whichever actors get the job of portraying these characters as adults. A particular mention should go to Lillis, who is at times heart-breaking as Beverly, dealing with all the problems of adolescence as well as a Father that takes a little bit too much of an interest in his daughters well-being. Her friendship with the boys provides relief, and the moment she finds the strength to break away from her father may well have you punching the air. If most of the adult characters don’t really register, well that’s sort-of the point. Parents, teachers, librarians, policemen, all are next-to-useless in the fight against Pennywise. As for Pennywise, although he’s been covered earlier, it’s worth repeating that Skarsgard is superb as the clown, literally, from hell. He’s neither better or worse than Tim Curry, he’s just different. He’s thoroughly weird-looking, completely out-of-step with our world, and just about the most unsettling thing you’ll see on screen this year. I look forward to people dressing up as him for many Halloweens to come…

Some people were keen to write off ‘It’, long before it made it to the screen. Delays caused by issues with script and budget are never a good sign, and that’s before you consider the esteem in which the previous adaptation was held (well, Curry’s performance anyway). All of this taken together could’ve resulted in a minor disaster, but happily that’s far, far from the case. The delays simply meant that time was taken to make sure everything was done properly, while everyone involved is keen to stress that this is not a remake of the 1990 series, just another adaptation of the novel, and that’s the only way to look at it (and what’s more, it should finally kill off that ludicrous notion that clowns are all about fun and happiness). Put simply, ‘It’ is an excellent film, full of great performances, with a creepy, unsettling atmosphere that frequently gives way to moments of genuine terror, while Skarsgard should join Curry in the pantheon of great horror performances. At the same time, special praise should go to Andy Muschietti for taking on a project that was so closely linked to another director, and making it his own in every way. Although it’s not been confirmed, I certainly hope that he comes back for chapter two. Following this will be quite the challenge. Let’s hope he’s up to it…

About author

TheMetalHead

Long-time fan of all things geek-related. Comics, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, Warhammer, video games, mythology, you name it, I probably like it. This also extends to pro-wrestling and heavy metal, hence the name. Particular loves would be the Star Wars sage, Game of Thrones (books and TV), Judge Dredd, Assassins Creed, and many more.

Born and raised in Essex by parents who have broadly supported these passions over the years, so much so that they now share many of them.