Reviewed by Eddie Daou
A week before this film came out, a box-office report came out naming 2017 as one of the lowest summers in over 10 years. It seemed to confirm the fears that Netflix and streaming had completely replaced going to the theater for the majority of the public.
Then IT came. On paper, it sounds like a total flop: a $35 million dollar, 135 minute, R-rated Stephen King book adaptation that's most closely associated with a goofy '90s TV movie? And yet somehow this movie grossed almost $14 million just on its opening night previews, and is on track to cross over $100 million in its opening weekend.
What tempered this fascination with a supernatural killer clown movie, you ask? Maybe it was the slew of "killer" clown sightings last year. But that fact that IT was already popular before it even came out - the trailer for IT is currently the most watched movie trailer ever for the first 24 hours of release - probably contributed to this. It had 197 million views online within the first *day* of its release. It became a sensation before it even came out.
With my anticipation building, and already being a huge fan of Stephen King's works and the original book, I had to see IT for myself. And to my surprise, it was a truly fun experience from start to finish. And this goes for both times I saw it. Every moment is totally thrilling - the laughs hit hard, and the scares really are fun.
Director Andy Muscietti spends the first half of the film presenting what is mostly a simple coming-of-age story. The only twist being that it's littered with some dark moments and supernatural scares. But this balancing act is kept up for the majority of the film. The focus is strictly on "the loser's club" of Bill Denbrough, Richie Tozier, Ben Hanscom, Beverly Marsh, Mike Hanlon, Eddie Kaspbrak, and Stan Uris. Each kid doesn't have to deal just with a shapeshifting killer clown, but a slew of their own day-to-day problems. The scary monsters and forms of It aren't mummies or giant spiders, but everyday things the kids are afraid of: blood, a scary-looking painting, a childhood trauma, or something scary you read in a book.
The pull of focus away from the supernatural towards the children would be totally jarring and boring, but thanks to the all of the great performances by the lead cast, it's still a totally enjoyable ride. The sense of camaraderie is real, and the group's constant joking with each other is legitimately hilarious. STRANGER THINGS' Finn Wolfhard is the clear standout as the hilarious Richie Tozier, delivering all of the film's funniest lines.
But for every belly-laugh you'll get from this movie, you'll get a scare in equal measure. The third act drops all of the coming of age humor completely, and shifts the audience straight into horror movie territory. There are some scary bursts of violence in the first 2/3rds, but the finale truly becomes crazy. Pennywise only popped up periodically before, but it's here that he's shown in all of his terrifying glory. He wouldn't be nearly as scary if it weren't Bill Skarsgard's performance. Every time he shows up, announced or not, you're immediately freaked out, regardless of if he's acting intimidating or goofy. Skarsgard shifts Pennywise's voice from high-pitched to a deep growl, as if he's trying to hide the horror inside. It's a huge change from Tim Curry's raspy, weird performance in the original adaptation, and it really emphasizes Pennywise as a hundreds-of-years-old demon more than just any old killer clown.
If you're not a fan of horror films, or more specifically, jump scares, then you probably won't like IT much. But a horror fan like me was down to be scared, no matter how it was. There were three scares in this movie that, even the second time I watched it, I will admit still made me jump and completely freaked me out.
I wasn't a fan Andy Muscietti's previous film, MAMA, at all, thinking it was a boring, awful slog. But after IT, I'm interested to see what he does next, and I'd love to see him return to direct the sequel. He perfectly switches between horror, creeping dread, and childlike brightness. But Chung-hoon Chung's cinematography is the one hire that completely makes the horror stand out. Every bit of visual horror looks as incredible as it is visceral. I'm eagerly awaiting this film to come out on blu-ray just to analyze his best shots for myself.
Most of the changes from the book are totally seamless and understandable for a film adaptation. The setting moves from 1959 in the original to 1989 here, and the change is barely visible. They don't go all-out in reminding you it's the 80s, aside from a couple of pop-culture quips, two New Kids On The Block related puns, and a poster for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5 looming in the background. But the most jarring change in the film, the one that almost derails the entire film is to Bill Denbrough. It wouldn't have been a huge problem with any of the other characters, but since he's arguably the main character in the film it becomes one. By making his entire mission focused on finding Georgie (who, in the book, is confirmed to be dead) completely alienates him from The Loser's Club. He puts Georgie ahead of them, a decision that the Bill of the boom would never make. It leads to the film's dumbest moments and the character's dumbest decisions, and it's especially frustrating considering all of ITs problems could be totally scrubbed out by just not changing Bill at all. It just makes the character seem convoluted and his decisions unreasonable. It's not a problem in the first two acts of the film, but once the third act hits his characterization issues becomes a real burden on the film. I might just be acting like a snobby book reader, but the changes to Bill really took me out of the film during a few moments in the ending.
All in all, I have to admit it: IT was one of the most fun experiences I've had in a theater in the last two years - both times, for that matter. It's long for a horror movie, but there wasn't a single minute that I wasn't thoroughly entertained. I loved every joke, and I either jumped or admired every scare. It's not as good as the book, but IT is a true delight. You might not like it, but if you do, you'll float too.