While the original tv mini-series of Stephen King’s novel ‘It’ scared me as a kid, leading to a long time fear of storm drains (and of course, clowns), it doesn’t hold up much. The 2017 remake takes some of the problems of it and vastly improves the material.
This film scraps the second half of the novel, where the protagonists fight the shape-shifting monster as adults, and instead focuses on when the kids first encounter Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) during the summer of 1989. The seven children form the Loser’s Club, comprised of Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer). The film does a good job with some of the characters and provides growth that eventually leads to the formation of the group, but some characters get little screentime/development compared to to others, with Mike and Stan getting the short straw. Each member does have a one-on-one scene with Pennywise, although it’s in these scenes where one of the film’s problems arise: overuse of jump scares.
While some are effective throughout the film, many of them are too obvious and announced, taking away any surprise or shock value. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are moments of well-done scares, with Skarsgård’s portrayal stealing nearly every scene he is in. As a shape-shifting clown though, Pennywise takes many forms, including a decomposing leper and headless corpse, and the effects for these other monstrosities are great and sell the world the film is in. The setting of the film is Derry, Maine, a fictional location featured in many of Stephen King’s works, and it is nice to see it come alive, with Pennywise being only a sliver of the evil in the town. A constant feeling of dread builds from scene to scene and the kids sell the scares, reacting well.
The kids steal a lot of the show and their chemistry is genuine, with Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard being the standout of the children as Richie, a fast-talking joker. The laughs were actually a nice surprise, especially for a horror film, and help give the film a subgenre of a kids’ adventure movie, with Pennywise simply an obstacle they have to conquer. This obstacle has some sharp teeth though, and the film isn’t scared to show off it’s R-rating, with blood and gore prevalent in the film. This actually helps the children a lot though, and they can drop f-bombs when appropriate, instead of using more PG talk. As a kid it was common to swear and the rating helps to bring this aspect to life and makes the kids more real.
The film does have some pacing issues however, feeling a little longer than it should be, but it’s understandable when trying to translate half of a 1200 page book to screen. The film cuts out some parts of the book but manages to fill its two-hour runtime with scares and laughs throughout, and for that, ‘It’ is a rare example of a novel being brought to the big screen that’s successful.