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Released: 8th September 2017 (UK and United States)
Length: 135 Minutes
Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Nicholas Hamilton
It is one of Stephen King’s longest, most popular novels and after its first adaptation in 1990 starring Tim Curry there was hardly an evil clown that came close to matching its fright-factor. After 27 years (which happens to coincide with the titular monster’s appearance) and a helping of fanfare online, the modern It has arrived and it’s sure to stand out among many horror films this year.
In the small American town of Derry, odd occurrences are afoot; random disappearances are going completely unchecked by the adults and many children are witnessing something sinister luring them away from safety. The main participants here are the Losers Club, some young kids who don’t quite fit in but still get by on their close friendships. This band of misfits soon comes together to take on the killer clown Pennywise and hopefully overcome their fears. It switches between ordinary life in Derry to moments where Pennywise attempts to take the children away to a horrible fate; the former cuts around to many different spots around the town which does develop the setting but the film wisely chooses to focus on the characters. We’re given a lot of time to learn about the group of youths, what scares them the most, and the problems they have daily. Between family problems, bullies, and disappearing children the film lays down plenty of development to get you to root for these kids and it really works. When conflict crops up between the characters, it feels genuine and the chemistry that forms in the group creates a compelling dynamic that carries into the final act without much issue.
Personality is a central focus for It with each of the children having their own quirks that work to set them apart. It’s rather similar to the Netflix show Stranger Things (Which is fitting as the young Finn Wolfhard came directly from that series, bringing some comic relief to this film). Each member of the Losers Club gets their own moment of fright from Pennywise; Jaeden Lieberher’s Bill, Jeremy Ray Taylor’s Ben, and Sophia Lillis’ Beverly are particularly great with their personal problems being put on full show throughout the film. Not all the young people are quite so developed though; of all the cast members, it’s Wyatt Oleff and Chosen Jacobs who feel slightly underused despite them being well-portrayed. Then there’s the clown himself, played by Bill Skarsgård. He doesn’t show up too often, but when he does, it’s especially chilling. When compared with Tim Curry, his voice is a lot smoother, slithering through his lines with a wickedly devilish demeanour. You can tell he enjoys preying on the children and exploiting their fears to a nasty effect. Outside of a few characters who could have been given a bit more material to gel with the group, the characters of It really stand out as some of the more likable characters in the modern horror genre.
The way It was shot and edited also fuels its mission to deliver scares; keeping between mid and close range, the shots convey Pennywise’s presence while also keeping his illusions dynamic and seamless. There’s a brilliant collection of special effects that take the fears of the children and amplify them to some grotesque heights and this cuts down on the jump scares; a few startling moments pop up here and there but it’s the manipulation of reality and the environment that brings out some of the nastier moments. Yet even with all the visual trickery going on, it’s Pennywise’s make-up that might make the biggest impression; a fantastic update from the original with costume work straight out of the Renaissance to create his disconnect from the real world. The music also twists, going from whimsical one moment to grimly foreboding the next; there’s also plenty of sound cues where the kids push back against their difficulties, further upping the audience’s investment. With most of the scares coming visually and audibly with a good build-up, the 2017 It succeeds at generating fear in the audience.
It’s more of a thriller with horror elements than a straight fright-fest, but unlike many other contemporaries in the horror genre, the new It backs up its creepy moments with characters that you will care about and by putting this before cheap scares, the modern rendition is well worth investigating, even if you have a chronic fear of clowns…
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars (Brilliant)