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– by Joseph Jammer Medina

 

IT is the latest film from horror director Andy Muschietti (Mama), and is based on the novel of the same name from horror author Stephen King. The film follows a band of school kids known as the Losers Club during the summer of 1989. Six months prior, one of the kids, Billy, had a brother mysteriously disappear while playing outside — and his brother wasn’t the only one. Kids have been disappearing all over the town of Derry. What’s more, each member of their group has had mysterious encounters with the creepy entity known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The gang goes on to uncover a dark mystery behind the town of Derry, one that dates back centuries. Despite the terror that Pennywise brings with him, Billy is adamant about finding his brother Georgie, and putting an end to Pennywise’s reign of terror for good.

From day one, the idea of another adaptation of Stephen King’s epic tome, IT, was met with a lot of doubt. In addition to being an important novel, it had also already gone on to be a memorable TV miniseries in the 1990s. What’s more, that miniseries starred the one and only Tim Curry as Pennywise, and although the series itself isn’t actually that great, his interpretation of the character has lived on in pop culture. And we can’t also forget the difficulties the novel brought to the table. It was a violent, dark tale that focused partially on kids in their adolescence, and mixing that idea in with a fitting R-rating was one fans weren’t sure studios would have the confidence to do. And of course, we can’t forget that the novel is just damn long, so actually giving it the time and pacing it deserved seemed highly unlikely. All in all, there was a lot working against this flick.

Luckily the filmmakers attached knew how to handle it. For starters, rather than cover the entire 1,000-plus page book, they opted to cover only the aspects that follow the children in the 1950s (or in the movie’s case, the 1980s). This helped to keep the film focused and the pacing tight. Next, they didn’t pull any punches. Rather than try and pull back for a PG-13 rating, they went full R, staying true to the source material, and it allowed them to exactly capture what made the novel great. It all seemed to be working in the film’s favor. So how did it all fare?

Pretty fantastically. While I wouldn’t call the film scary, I would say it succeeds on more of a creepy and unsettling level. Most importantly, it’s fittingly focused on developing its characters, just as one could hope from a Stephen King novel of this length. So let’s start with that. The movie does a seemingly impossible job of giving each of the main cast enough screen time by themselves to make us care, yet not so much that we lose sight of what the film is actually about. For the first half or so, the film bounces from kid to kid, portraying each of them in their everyday life, before portraying a series of escalating encounters with Pennywise. We get a chance to see what makes all of them tick, and what sort of pressures they’re facing at home, before their greatest fears manifest in Pennywise. Slowly but surely, the gang is brought together, and it makes for an incredibly rewarding watch.

Once the group is all together, the film gets even better, as the chemistry between all the kids is great. The members of the Losers Club are almost all perfectly cast in their roles (I would say the actor who played Stan Uris was probably the weak link in the group). From Finn Wolfhard’s wise-cracking Richard Tozier to Jack Dylan Grazer’s neurotic Eddie Kaspbrak, the film finds that balance between quirky and realistic. The film makes room for these kids to not only be memorable, but it takes the time to actual build them up as characters before putting them through hell. If there’s one character here who gets the short end of the stick, it’s Chosen Jacobs’ Mike Hanlon, who joins the gang pretty late, and has very little extra to contribute. Granted, he has his own story and arc, but when it comes to actually contributing to the group as a whole, he definitely feels more like an outsider than the rest.

On the whole, the film also manages to accomplish the very difficult job of portraying adolescence. The kids in this film are around 12 or so, and in a film that shows this age, it’s easy for it to come across as either disingenuous when it comes to kids’ understanding of sex, or downright creepy. IT manages to balance it all perfectly, creating a believable romantic tension (or rather, puppy love infatuation) between Sophia Lillis’ Beverly Marsh and a couple others in the Losers Club, all without sacrificing the characters’ overall immaturity.

 

If there is any real criticism I have to swing at this book, it’s the same criticism I have with a lot of Stephen King stories. He tends to have incredibly evil and sadistic bullies, and as someone who didn’t grow up with that sort of blatant bullying, it’s really hard for me to understand the why behind their violence. This mostly remains true in IT, but the film goes the extra lengths to show trouble at this kid’s home life. It’s not much, and I wouldn’t call it enough, but given that he’s just a side character, it doesn’t affect the overall narrative of the film too badly.

When all said and done, this is about as good of an IT film anyone could expect. It has its focus on all the right things (character), its cast is excellent, its execution is exceptional, and it has an engaging lead villain that I want to see more of. Unless it severally crashes at the box office this coming weekend, I don’t see a scenario where we don’t get an IT: Chapter Two, and I couldn’t be happier.

Grade: A

Are you planning on checking out IT this weekend in theaters? Let us know your thoughts down below!

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  • Carmelo Pappalardo

    I hope they offer red balloons as a promo for the opening.

Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.