IT (2017) Review

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This review is spoiler free.

When it was first announced that an IT remake was in the works, there was always a little apprehension. Whether you’re a fan of the book, the 90s mini series or just a horror fan in general, it’s safe to say there is a lot of hype over IT, but does it deliver? With so much story to work with, it was always going to be a difficult task to get the right balance of story and horror. You don’t want to go too far one way at the other’s expense. And on the whole, IT just about gets it right. It does not go all out horror, sacrificing the character development and story of the Losers Club. Instead, it finds a nice blend to mix the two, allowing you to get your horror fill along with a nicely worked story full of wonderful, relatable characters.

The strongest element of this movie is the outstanding performance of the young cast. The Losers Club and their ‘coming of age’ journey was handled spectacularly and went from strength to strength as the film progressed.  The group dynamic worked well, with the mix of characters complementing each other with great results. While individually some stood out more than others, collectively the group was an unstoppable juggernaut of childhood.

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As for the stand-out performers, it’s hard to look past the trio of Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Beverly (Sophia Lillis) and Richie (Finn Wolfhard). Lieberher delivered such a strong performance, showing an emotive range well beyond his years. The haunted memories of his younger brother both plagued him and inspired him throughout the movie. His character developed in a natural way and by the end of the movie he was a clear standout. Finn Wolfhard excelled in Stranger Things, but his performance in IT was something different entirely. He was here to provide the comedic relief, and while he achieved this, it was his perfect timing and delivery that was the most impressive aspect of his performance. As for Sophia Lillis, she was by far the best of the bunch. Her character relatability and the exploration of her sexuality were extremely compelling. Lillis has a bright future ahead of her.

So, what about Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise? First of all, it was a smart move to go a totally different direction from the Tim Curry portrayal. Trying to replicate it would have been foolish, and Skarsgård deserves a lot of plaudits for his performance. He was confusing, terrifying, silly and mesmerising all at the same time. When not hampered by the questionable use of CGI, his character performance, especially in the second half of the movie, was fantastic. He made the role his own, and while never given enough time to flesh out some backstory, he was able to display a range of varying emotions in a stellar performance. I’m unable to say at this stage if his version is better than Curry’s as he is yet to interact with the adult versions of the Losers Club. But for now at least, it was a very strong outing and hopefully, there will be much more to come from him.

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One of the most exciting aspects of the film, for me, was seeing how much influence Chung-hoon Chung had on the movie. And he starts off very strong indeed with the opening scene of Georgie playing with his boat in the rain. Chung’s fluidity and movement with the camera added something very special to the movie. Some of the cinematography in IT was vintage Chung and it made the film better because of his influence. As for director Andrés Muschietti, he managed to incorporate all the best elements of his previous film Mama into the movie. He is a competent enough director, and if he is to take charge of the sequel, then it is in relatively good hands.

Having had a look through the #ITMovie timeline on Twitter it is clear that some people are a little let down by the movie. IT will disappoint some ‘modern horror’ fans. Cheap jump scares and masses amount of gore is what newer horror fans appear to favour. You won’t find many of these traits in IT. The film is more disturbing than outright scary. It tries to unsettle you on a personal level and it is that attempt at a personal connection where the true terror lies. My biggest concern going into the movie was that it was going to be full of the above. I was expecting overused horror cliches and be jump scare after jump scare. And while the film is not completely free of these things,  I’m satisfied overall with the direction they chose. Creating a truly terrifying atmosphere is far more rewarding than cheap throw away scares. The sound in the film was also used to maximise the horror aspects to really ramp up the horror with some vintage ‘Lewton Bus’ moments.

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The main complaint I have with IT involves the presentation and execution of the horror elements in the first half of the movie. First of all, Bill Skarsgård cannot take the blame for this, he worked with what he was given and made the most of it. It’s not his performance that was the issue, it was the over-use of cheap looking CGI. And even if they had spent more money to make it look better, it still would be the weakest part of the film. Director Andy Muschietti has stated that they used practical effects as much as possible. But having watched the film there was heavy use of CGI in the first half of the movie and it was extremely noticeable. It wasn’t scary, it was just awkward, and it actually made Pennywise less menacing. Thankfully these issues are addressed in the second and third acts when they allow Skarsgård some proper screen time. Hopefully, in Chapter Two, they address this and choose to rely on actual character performances rather than silly SFX.

There were a few other issues that also had me questioning some of the film’s choices. Mike’s character was totally diminished, and his role in the group was completely changed. He is the one who is supposed to tell them about the history of the town, but they transferred that to Ben. Mike is supposed to be the town librarian when he’s older, yet it was Ben in the library doing the research. As if taking away the academic side of the only black character and giving it to a white character wasn’t bad enough. But to relegate Mike’s role to the provider of the ‘gun’ was just crazy. There is a very valid argument about the roles that people of colour are given in mainstream cinema. IT did little to disprove this theory in this instance.

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Overall, IT was really enjoyable. It delivered on many fronts, with the strongest being the performance of the young cast and the way their individual stories were handled. The film’s cinematography was stunning at times, and the overall feel of the movie knitted nicely together with the different story elements to make the film stronger as a whole. While the film does have a few issues, and might not meet the taste requirements of some horror fans, it has a strong and satisfying finish.

IT lives up to the hype and instantly does enough to create the appetite for Chapter Two. Outstanding performances from the young cast acts as the heartbeat and soul of the movie. Bill Skarsgård, when allowed to, delivers as Pennywise and his unique take on the character should be rightfully praised.The film is not without its faults, but the power of the Losers Club is able to defeat these shortfalls.

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