*Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Stephen King has long been a cash cow for Hollywood. The renowned horror writer has provided the source material for such classics as The Shining (1980), The Green Mile (1999), and The Shawshank Redemption (1995). However, taking a King tale and putting it on the silver screen does not necessarily guarantee profit, as seen in this year’s flop-tacular film The Dark Tower — which benefited from a strong cast and a large marketing campaign. Thankfully, Andy Muschietti’s It is a genuine success, which should help put butts in seats during the typically slow movie month of September and make them jump out of them just as well.
Set in the fictional Maine town of Derry, It centers around seven middle-school outcasts who are bound together by a common foe: a monster that takes the form of a clown named Pennywise. After each kid encounters the “It” separately, they begin to investigate the mystery behind the evil being.
As a horror monster, Pennywise is particularly chilling. Able to shape-shift and create hallucinations, Pennywise attempts to terrify the children of Derry in order to abduct them, after which their fates are never known. Pennywise’s brand of terror is not dependent on jump scares or other generic horror tropes; rather, It’s omnipresent threat and ability to manipulate reality keep the viewer on edge throughout the movie. Because of this creative method, the chills and thrills of the film feel authentic rather than contrived.
Adding to the brilliance of the character is the acting of Bill Skarsgard, whose performance as Pennywise adds depth and nuance, something horror movie monsters often lack. The opening scene, in which Pennywise lures a little boy named Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) into the sewer, is grippingly tense and one of the strongest acting performances in the movie.
That’s no swipe at the other actors in the film, though; one of It’s biggest strengths is the acting performance of the very young cast. Despite the fact that all of the characters are too young to go see an R-rated movie like the one they are in, the chemistry between the cast members is flawless, led by the hilariously crude performance of Finn Wolfhard (of Stranger Things fame) as Richie. The convincing acting, combined with brutally witty dialogue, sends the viewer back to their own middle school days, amplifying the film’s suspense with a hint of relatability.
To discuss It without addressing its weaknesses would be almost as dishonest as Pennywise’s manipulations. The primary issue with It is its pacing. The first half of the film moves in a very choppy manner, with awkward jumps between scenes of exposition and sequences of horror. While both are done well, they do not flow efficiently, exacerbating the film’s 2-hour, 15-minute runtime.
Additionally, as with many of Stephen King’s novels, It struggles near the end. While the source material’s disturbing resolution was thankfully edited, Muschietti and Co. failed to create anything inspiring, possibly out of the desire for a sequel. After all, King’s original novel does contain a sizable section that was included in the original TV version but omitted from the new film.
My last gripe with the film is the use of the character Mike, played by Chosen Jacobs. Mike is introduced fairly early in the film, but the few scenes he’s in over the first half of the film are completely isolated from the rest of the film. While Mike becomes a critical character in later sequences, it is a shame that he is seemingly neglected throughout much of the film, given the ability displayed by Jacobs and the potential to further develop his character.
Despite the failure when it comes to Mike’s character, most of the other kids are fleshed out beautifully. From Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), the older brother of the missing Georgie; to Beverly (Sophia Lillis), the bullied girl from a damaged home; to Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the bookworm new kid whose theory about “It” helps unite the children, the “Loser’s Club” has a member with whom each viewer can empathize. Due to this emotional connection with the characters, It successfully transcends the basic trappings of a horror movie and is certainly worth a trip to the theaters.
Wagner’s Watchlist: 7/10