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MOVIE REVIEW: FTN reviews IT. Twice

September 5th, 2017 by Andrew McCarroll Comments

Directed by: Andrés Muschietti
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard
Release date: September 8th, 2017
Running time: 2 Hours 15 Mins

Review 1 by Andrew McCarroll

You don’t choose your nightmares. They choose you

A group of bullied kids band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.

With the trailer being viewed 197 million times in its first 24 hours, beating the previous record held by The Fate of the Furious, it’s fair to say that the fevered anticipation for the latest re-imagining of Pennywise is less to do with Stephen King’s 1100 page doorstop novel, than Tim Curry’s masterful performance in the 1990 mini-series.

Introducing an entire generation to Coulrophobia (fear of clowns) to the point where this version of the film is set to be picketed by the World Clown Association due to fears that adverse publicity surrounding the film’s killer clown Pennywise, will lead to cancelled bookings for its members.

The remake manages to retain the best parts of both the book and the mini-series which, viewed in hindsight, drags whenever Curry’s terrifying Harlequin is not on screen.

Setting the film in 1989 allows director Andy Muschietti to give the film a beautiful, otherworldly yet grounded setting that the best King adaptors Rob Reiner (Stand by Me) and Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) have been able to capture. There is a sense of menace in the mundane that is extremely unsettling, the town of Derry is as much a character as the Losers Club themselves.

Speaking of which, the charismatic children at the forefront of the film have a depth and understanding that breathes life to each of their characters.

It’s refreshing to hear kids actually act like real kids, not just mini adults with endless heroism and an unbreakable moral compass. They are vulnerable, each facing their own struggle with some confronting real life monsters every bit as evil as the dancing clown. They are kids who find strength and comfort in friendship that they don’t find in family and it’s this bond that makes them a threat to Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise.

Faced with the impossible task of trying to reinvent such an iconic performance, Skarsgård does the smart thing, he doesn’t. Instead he almost mirrors the deadlier side of Curry’s performance, stripping down the humour to the point he is almost mute and instead expressing himself through menacing eyes and a spine tingling grin.

Recognising that this isn’t a character like the Joker so seeped into public consciousness that you can create vastly different takes, Pennywise is what the people are coming to see and he gives them exactly what they want. He is creepily subtle at times, racking up the tension to almost unbearable levels before exploding into terrifying bouts of viciousness that keeps the audience on their toes.

In all aspects IT is a success. There isn’t a hint of the troubled production that saw both director (True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga) and star (Will Poulter) drop out shortly before filming. It looks stunning, with the tense, nerve shredding atmosphere created with masterful use of light and shadow as opposed to obnoxious gore (although it’s not lacking there either).

IT is a lesson in how effective horror can be when you create characters people care about as opposed to simply being used as victims.  It’s the best event horror movie in years. It doesn’t live up to the original, it exceeds it.

4 out of 5 Nerds

Review 2 by Mark McCann

It’s been often the case that a Stephen King novel, for all of its commercial success in paper form, is a notoriously difficult beast to adapt. And Hollywood over the decades have certainly given it the old college try.

Despite most of these lacklustre turn-ins, the 1990 adaptation of IT, in original format of a 2-episode TV mini-series directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, was something of a success.

King himself stepped in for co-writing chores and Tim Curry did a sterling job as his terrifying creation, Pennywise the clown. So, with director Andy Muschietti still hot from the Guillermo Del Toro produced Mama, horror fans became intrigued. Could the King curse be lifted?

The short answer is no. That’s not to say this film falls short. But we’ll get to that.

First, we need to discuss the opening gambit, and for this reviewer’s money, the first major no, no of the film. The opening, much like the book’s opening, sets the tone with gratuity. This can be forgiven in the prose, for a novel allows your imagination to do the work. In celluloid, to give way to gratuity early on is to set the bar high.

Most modern horrors fall into this trap, leaving us with a very hollow experience. The surprise has already been spoiled.

We can permit the opening faux pas, especially since King novels have as much to do with character work, as they do with horror: that dual thread is what makes them so effective. Writers Palmer and Fukunaga know this, so there is room for more than horror, perhaps even a genuine cult piece of work.

The set-up is rushed but effective. The young teen actors are well cast, with Sophia Lillis as standout, perhaps as her arc has more at stake than the others. The film’s setting is the 80s, the last truly original slice of Americana before the internet made originality redundant. The dialogue is fun and the setting is small town mid-west where tropes are quickly established; the eerie town vibe, the bullies, the losers. It feels comfortable, like an old friend.

The kicker comes when the backdrop becomes part of the film’s problem, more glaring when we consider the book is set in ’58.’ Once we settle into the characters we realise much of their story arcs feel out of place, where they didn’t in the original IT, set in 1960. However this is 2017 IT, and its characters feel anachronistic, which is a small slight but stood out none the less.

Putting aside the out of time feel, the characters themselves, a group of troubled teenage boys and a girl going through a quiet hell, have dense arcs. These are hinted at, but never given room to be fully explored. Cramming that material feels like we are being hustled along, though Palmer and Fukunaga certainly try to slow the beats. IT would undoubtedly have made an outstanding TV show, but here it is stymied by a run time just over 2 hours. In addition, scenes with musical interludes that were very much of the 80s period feel jarring and out of place. At times IT seems to straddle being a pop-culture pleaser and a genuinely scary film. To Muschietti’s credit though it somewhat succeeds at the latter.

The reason for this is two-fold.

First, Muschietti knows how to fine tune dramatic tension and he succeeds, though one could argue that he overplays his hand at the very beginning.

Second; Pennywise actor Bill Skarsgard is genuinely scary. He doesn’t look as much the part as Tim Curry did, but in terms of acting, he’s terrifying. This is marred much by CGI and a lot of what could have been very effective prosthetics are hammed up, dampening the scares. What should be a lingering fear trades down for short lived shock value, which is a pity.

It’s hard to imagine that a completely faithful adaptation of IT could ever be brought to screens considering the darkness King plumbs in the novel, varying from socially uncomfortable truths, to the horrific and the sexual.

Judging IT as a standalone horror apart from its predecessors however, and you have an enjoyable jumpy film. It doesn’t offer anything substantially new to the genre, perhaps because its prose incarnation helped create said genre. Yet, for a good old Friday night frightener it’s well worth a punt.

There are certainly some jumps. It’s just not the film critics would have liked, nor the film fans would have yearned for.

But then, IT rarely ever is.

3 out of 5 Nerds

IT fun facts: Stranger Things creators The Duffer Brothers pitched Warner Bros their own version of “IT” but were turned down as they were “not established enough”

In the book Pennywise, or IT, returns to prey on the children every 27 years. It’s been 27 years since the TV version. Cool or what?!

Andrew McCarroll never quite built on the dizzying career heights that he hit at 6 years old, when as a member of the “Ghostbusters” he would charge his neighbours to remove any unwanted spectres. Now retired from slaying spooks, he spends his time obsessing over superheroes (especially Batman) and devouring shows like Dexter, Game of Thrones and Archer in a manner that would make Galactus proud. You can follow his rants on twitter @andymc1983