IT Review: Stephen King’s Pennywise floats to success

The list of classic horror movies that I’ve seen in my life thus far is embarrassingly short. I’ve only recently watched Child’s Play, The Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining, and most importantly, IT. In a world full of reboots, it was only a matter of time before Stephen King’s frightening dancing clown was redone with modern technology. Luckily, the new adaptation separates itself enough from the original to be viewed as a terrifying standalone thriller, but at the same time still gives homage to the 1990 miniseries.

One of the main differences, for good or for bad, is the appearance of Pennywise. Tim Curry’s iteration of the clown in the 1990 miniseries was more friendly-looking, using his charm to entice the children of Derry. Bill Skarsgård’s approach to the character was a bit darker than his early 90s counterpart. While Curry went with the seemingly “catch more children with honey” strategy, Skarsgård was just plain creepy throughout the entire movie. The 2017 version of IT was not meant to be a direct reboot of the miniseries, but it is understandable to mentally compare the two, especially during the infamous Georgie scene.

In both adaptations, young Georgie is as happy as a clam when his brother, Billy, helps build him a paper boat to sail in the rainstorm. The boat sails for quite some time until a sewer grate swallows it up. And that’s when the young boy encounters Pennywise. Being a six-year-old boy, Georgie may not fully realize how absolutely disturbing it is to find a clown hanging out in the sewers during a storm (if not in general). The scene continues with Pennywise tricking Georgie into reaching for the boat, the clown biting the boy’s arm clean off, and then pulling him down into the sewer. Here, it’s easy to compare the two scenes and come away wishing Skarsgård’s form as the clown appeared a tad bit more welcoming like Curry’s, but the tone of the 2017 movie is more suited for Skarsgård’s Pennywise.

Other than the appearance and personality of Pennywise, the biggest change between adaptations is the flow. The 1990 miniseries was centered on the kids already grown up in 1985, with flashbacks to their first battle with the clown in the late 1950s. The new IT, also known as Chapter One going forward, revolves around the kids entirely, but in this one, they were kids in 1989. We see from start to finish how each child comes into contact with Pennywise, how the children band together to form the Loser’s Club, and how they overcome their fears to defeat the clown. After the kids have seemingly vanquished the clown, they make a blood pact to return to Derry if Pennywise ever returns. Chapter Two will assumingly pick up 27 years following the kids’ first battle with Pennywise. Director Andy Muschetti has also confirmed that the sequel will return to the 1980s (presumably through the use of flashbacks), and may also touch on the clown’s origin. I hope Muschetti does go into a little more detail on the background of Pennywise and the lore behind the clown’s existence.

Skarsgård’s portrayal of the dancing clown was not the only bright acting spot of the movie. The child actors were all phenomenal in their own unique way. Finn Wolfhard, best known for his role in Netflix’s Stranger Things, was amazing as the smartass, joke-cracking Richie Tozier. At times, Tozier’s comic relief may have felt a bit excessive at times, but overall, having him there to deflect the dread of Pennywise was a nice touch to the film. The other standout performance to me was Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh. Lillis depicted a slightly different Bev compared to the miniseries, with her counterpart having a bit of cool, badass vibe to her. The 2017 film stressed that her father sexually harassed the young girl. It’s amazing to see a young actress have the ability to perform under those types of circumstances.

Stephen King’s work has terrorized, frightened, and drawn immense success over the years; nothing’s changed with IT. The 2017 adaptation racked in an estimated $123 million, breaking numerous records along the way: biggest opening weekend in September, biggest opening weekend for a horror movie, and biggest opening weekend for a Stephen King adaptation. I fully expect the dollars to continue pouring in for the film, because IT was a horrifying experience. Skarsgård’s take on Pennywise is a chilling performance; seeing him terrorize the kids by exposing them to their greatest fears is masterful and chilling. Also, seeing the clown’s disembodied victims literally floating in his sewer liar is enough to induce night terrors. With an overall great cast performance by the Loser’s Club and impressive CGI work, IT is poised to be one of the best movies this year.

Final Score: 9/10

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