Y'all know that the sole reason that this film is solid is because they covered the best part of the original film, right? Like, are you guys sincerely anticipating part two? I mean, if you are eagerly awaiting for a mummy being warded off by birdcalls, then...different strokes, I suppose.
It's funny. The history of Stephen King film adaptations, be it in theaters or on television, could not be further from spotless than if it was recorded in a notebook doused in warm water and then splattered with Gerber baby food. We all know the classics...and we all know the failures. And yet, out of all of them, the most captivating with audiences seems to be Stephen King's It. But why? Well, I guess that outside of the primary fear presented in the film, which has deemed the film "scary," it's also been the one that's been examined the most critically in the years after its release, with the prevailing discovery being that...*gasp*...it's actually not very scary. Or very structured. Or very good.
While the original, as a whole, is underwhelming (and, at times, ridiculous), I do admit that the first half is effective. Cornball at times, but still effective. Coming 5 years after one of the best film adaptations of a Stephen King work of fiction, Stand By Me, the first half is adept in creating an ambience of naïve uncertainty, bravado, and natural camaraderie.
This film is that first half seen through the lens of 2017. Which means better.
The film takes place in Derry, Maine, a town that is witnessing a painful epidemic of missing children. According to the film, deaths and disappearances occur six times the national rate in Derry, Maine. During summer of 1989, seven children are being terrorized by Pennywise the Dancing Clown, personifying each of their most deepest traumas and phobias and possessing the ability to attack any child, having killed the brother of one of the children, Billy, the year before. While horrified and tormented, they make it their mission to band together and destroy the monster.
In our era steeped in a perpetual obsession with nostalgia, there is a retro feel that envelops this film. The intro is shot in such a tint that it resembles the 80s and 90s. The score is gloriously retro and evocative, composed wonderfully by Benjamin Wallfisch. Above all, this film replicates the chemistry of the children in the original film with ease and passion. However, the film melds the amiable, good-natured camaraderie of the past with a 2017 sensibility of having an unflinching, veritable perspective on life and all its niceties.
Director Andy Muschietti, following up his directorial debut, Mama, with this film, perceptively and sagaciously accentuates the fact that these are middle school kids and their vibes and energies are right on the money, displaying raw innocence, adolescent awkwardness, and even unremitting nastiness and puerile vulgarity. Billy, the main character, isn't particularly a leader, so much as he's just unwilling to back down. Each of the other kids manage to inhabit individual authenticities, as opposed to hiding behind their prominent traits.
Beverly demolishes the "token girl" syndromes, allowing herself to be damaged and yet living life straightforwardly, carefree, and, occasionally, even emitting acerbic irony. Ben, the fat kid, is given much more of a heart and a warm humility, rather than just being a victim, and it helps craft an inadvertent, yet a fitting, engaging, and perfectly handled love triangle between him, Beverly, and Billy. My favorite of the bunch was Richie, bearing a fiercely salacious and riotously funny potty mouth. All of the child actors are damn impressive, having the forthright, unadorned nature and spirit that the roles require. As Henry the bully, Nicholas Hamilton gives a deeply cruel and demented performance, looking very similar to the bully from the original and yet beefing him up emotionally. Bill Skarsgard one-ups Mr. Curry as Pennywise. Curry was more entertaining, but Skarsgard is the more loonier and more scarier actor, occasionally resembling Johnny Depp, if Johnny Depp actually still took challenging roles.
Speaking of which, the scares. How are they? Well, to elaborate, the purpose of the novel and the original film, outside of compounding half of America's coulrophobia, seems to ostensibly be to combine fear and tragedy. Fear can spring from tragedy, or they can even be synonymous with each other. I can't speak for the novel, but in the original film, the fear aspect is the focus and seeing how it isn't incredibly scary, it falters. In this film, they coexist splendidly, not only exploiting tragedy, but also inadequacy. This allows for the film to expand, enlarge, and emphasize certain aspects of life to not just project fear, but to damage. Aspects such as racism, deadly fires, realities repeating themselves, personal losses, diseases, even the ramifications of sexual abuse (yeah, it goes there).
Because the fear is from a provenance that's identifiable and real, it highlights and intensifies the supernatural surface horror even more. Skarsgard's Pennywise outdoes the original in one crucial department: action. In the original, Curry just seemed like some growling, cartoonish monster. I guess the intent was to make him seem more cunning and studied, but...Tim Curry doesn't really do cunning and studied, per se. I just never felt like the kids were in any formidable danger. This film...holy shit. Pennywise is a straight up leviathan, knowing not only how to torment and allure, but how to demonstrate his intentions. There were three specific scenes, in which Pennywise lunged at the kids, all the while shrieking and shaking his head, that absolutely terrified me. All of it comes to a head in a thrilling climax that produces some of the most jaw-dropping and vibrantly freakish special effects I've seen.
So, to condense all this and put it bluntly...pretty scary. Intelligently so, too, thanks to screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman. Also, props to the film company for timing the release of this film to be literally one year after that crazy clown phenomenon of last year. Like...seriously, am I the only one who noticed that?
Watching this film is a breath of relief after having to watch, for the most part, mediocre horror trailers that routinely remind me that we are always going to be awashed with uninspired, churned-out dreck made merely to capitalize on tried-and-true trends, ingratiate with flashier special effects, and to satiate the most simplistic film palates. They also remind me to (a) be grateful of and cherish the shining glories even more and (b) the shining glories will never lose their luster.
It's revealing how certain theatres have already rid themselves of six talking ponies after only two weeks and yet a month-and-a-half later, this film can still draw in a sizeable audience. I guess it's also revealing how up in arms we get when a fresh, enterprising horror film gets its 100% status unjustly stripped. What it reveals is that ingenuity and vigor is profoundly sought after in the horror genre, moreso by audiences than critics. This may not be Get Out, but it's...It.
So....y'all ready for part two? *groans*
RATING: Three-and-a-quarter stars out of four