I guess I'd consider myself a Stephen King fan, but definitely more of a casual fan than a die hard. I've never read any of his books, but I'm usually interested in checking out his movie adaptations. (The Shining and Shawshank are two of my favorite movies.) With the new buzz surrounding the new It movie, I had to check it out. Does it hold up to the critical praise? Well, yes and no.
Before I get into my review, new readers should note that I'm a pop culture artist. I've got some Stephen King inspired work for sale; click the images to go to my store.
It would be almost impossible to talk about the new movie without mentioning the 1990 TV miniseries. The first half with the kids is pretty good, while the second half with the adults is terrible. (Even the director has mentioned that he hates the second half of his own movie.) Tim Curry is fantastic (as usual), and his performance is the reason that Pennywise the Dancing Clown has become such an icon. From what I understand, the clown wasn't in the novel all that much, as the creature takes many forms. It wasn't until the TV movie that he became such an icon.
It basically deserves the positive reviews it's getting. It's generally a well crafted movie, and I found myself engaged throughout most of its (long) run time. There's more, but I tried to limit my list to what I liked the most about the movie. Minor spoilers ahead:
- The Scope. The novel is over a thousand pages long, and I've heard that it's a bit scatterbrained and unfocused. There are parts that work, and parts that really don't. The film was smart about what it took from the novel and what it left out. Most notably, the movie focuses only on the characters in childhood. As the themes of the child half and the adult half of the novel are different, It really needed to be cut into two stories.
- The Cast. Child actors can be tough to cast, but this movie nailed it. Their acting was generally pretty great, and it wasn't tough to buy these kids as friends. They behaved like preteens really do. When they played together, they told crude jokes and teased each other. When something frightening happened, you could see the terror on their faces. I especially liked the young kid playing Georgie. He was cute when he was Georgie, and absolutely terrifying when he was It pretending to be Georgie. Bill Skarsgård, who played Pennywise, doesn't quite live up to the impossibly high bar of Tim Curry, but he does an admirable job and his portrayal is very genuinely disturbing.
- The Horror. Most of the scares worked, provided the scare was about atmosphere rather than a jump scare. (With one notable exception. If you've seen the movie, you know which one I'm talking about.) Most of the horror scenes worked because they played on real fears that many of us have: claustrophobia, loneliness, sickness, and abuse caused by someone close to us. Even though It is a fictional character, it takes the form of something real that scares us. Another layer to the horror that worked very well were the additions of the adults and bullies. Every adult in this movie is either oblivious or an abusive monster. The bullies are psychos who have no problem carving up their victims or throwing rocks at their heads. These young kids really are alone, and we know they're in legitimate danger because the movie doesn't shy away from hurting them.
- The Humor. This movie was a lot funnier than I expected it to be. The kids had quite a few good one liners, and I especially liked the recurring New Kids on the Block jokes. There were also some good visual jokes, such as the three doors in the haunted house. In fact, the whole haunted house sequence had a very "Evil Dead" quality to it, and I really appreciated it.
- The Editing. Technically, the movie is very tight. The editing enhances both the horror and the humor, and I don't remember any scenes that felt like they needed to be trimmed.
- The Cinematography. The movie is beautiful throughout and the photography enhances the mood of every scene, whether it's funny, scary, or somewhere in the middle.
Although I enjoyed the movie, it does have some major flaws. It is a good movie, but the flaws prevent it from becoming a "classic." I haven't read the book, so I'm not going to comment on the changes from the source material. These flaws are just from a filmmaking and story-telling perspective:
- Pennywise. I mentioned in my "Pros" section that I liked Bill Skarsgård's performance. So why did I list Pennywise as a con? I'll explain by using Tim Curry's Pennywise as a counterpoint. In the miniseries, Tim Curry's clown first appears playing peekaboo with a little girl behind some sheets that have been hung up to dry. She thinks he's funny, and smiles at him. When he first appears to Georgie in the sewer, he's friendly, he laughs, he compliments his dad. (Video below.) He's approachable and you can understand why the kids would be attracted to him. It the 2017 version, Pennywise is terrifying right off the bat. In reality, Georgie would have run away immediately after seeing those creepy eyes.
- Strange Tonal Shifts. The movie does both horror and comedy quite well, but there are a few shifts that are a bit jarring. For example, there's a scene where the kids are cleaning the blood out of Bev's bathroom. This should have been a grotesque scenario but the moviemakers played the upbeat song Six Different Ways by The Cure over the visuals and made it feel like a lighthearted bonding moment. It's just an odd juxtapositon and it didn't work.
- The Last Act. The movie felt like it should have ended after the haunted house scene. All the plot threads lead to the house and they even had a confrontation with Pennywise that felt like a climax. But it kept going. The final battle in the sewer was a bit weak, especially after the previous sequence in the house where all the kids faced their fears. On top of that, Bev was turned into a damsel in distress for no reason and even saved by true love's kiss. If the rest of the movie wasn't so good, that bit would have lost me.
If you're a horror fan, I think you'll like this movie. It's definitely one of the better mainstream Hollywood horror movies to come out in a long time; support it so they make more like this! And please consider supporting this site by picking up some pop culture merch. Thanks for reading!
Story: ★★★ of 5
Scares: ★★★ of 5
Visuals: ★★★★ of 5
Overall: ★★★½ of 5