Directed by Andy Muschietti
Movie versus book, movie versus TV mini-series, movie versus nightmares and parodies and fuzzy memories, yadda, yadda, yadda. We've spent too much time together for me to go into that again. Let's just jump into this, shall we?
Lots of folks are going to line up and pay their monies for the movie with the scary clown. Lots of people are going to line up and pay their monies to have their wits scared out of them. What they're going to find is a movie about friendship and acceptance. They're going to find a movie about entering adolescence and the changes that come with it. They're going to find a movie about the daily horrors that children experience while the adults around them either ignore them or are quite literally blind to their terror. They're going to find a movie about loss and grief, about terrible truths and even more terrible lies. And they will also find a scary clown and will have some of their wits scared out of them.
The best horror hides Important Things in between making us jump in our seats and pee our pants. This works for horror in film and horror in literature. I think I've mentioned this before. Frankenstein is a great example of this - Mary Godwin works out her feelings about her affair with Percy Shelly. Pet Cemetery - a couple trying to survive the death of their child. Cujo - a marriage coming to a slow, disappointing end. The Conjuring - a family trying to keep it together in the face of a changing economy. The Exorcist - a single mother trying to raise a child as the child enters adolescence. The Shining - the horror and isolation of addiction. I could go on and on with this. It's a fun game. Think of your favourite work of horror, now what is really hiding in the shadows? Anyway, It continues this tradition.
Behind the scares and dread and tension, It hides a coming of age film. The outcasts of It wouldn't be out place in a John Hughes' movie, maybe in the background, hanging out with Jon Cryer or Anthony Michael Hall. The audience grows to care about the Losers. As the movie progresses we learn about these characters, their hopes, their dreams, their fears, the details that make up the whole of each. And the audience grows from waiting out the scenes between scares to becoming truly concerned for these kids, not just in how they survive the evil that is hunting them, but how they will survive the banalities of their town, the darkness that is in their lives, how this moment will define them as they grow older.
It may be set at the end of the 80s, but the film rolls along more like a 70s horror film than a modern example of Attention Deficit Theatre. Slow burns, pacing that takes its time to put everything into place, moments that allow for character development and growth. Nothing feels rushed. It is genre film done right. There are moments when the script may be a little less than subtle, the exposition a little clunky, but then that lack of subtlety works to the film's advantage during the last act. And for all of its moments of clunkiness, some of the dialogue in It is damn near note perfect. The R rating allows just not for gore and terror of a breed rarely seen, but it allows for realistic dialogue. There are moments of heartache and heartbreak and moments when the audience really did laugh out loud. It really is the funniest movie about evil taking the form of a Victorian clown and hunting children that I've ever seen. Ever? Ever.
And this is the point where I tell you about the amazing cast of this film.
Let's first talk about Bill Skarsgard, the man behind the clown makeup. His performance as Pennywise is one for the ages. Simultaneously playful and scary, magnetic and creepy, every syllable of his dialogue somehow dripping with humour and dread, this, this is the stuff of nightmares. With his eyes that move independently of each other (seriously, they do) and that unplaceable accent, Mr. Skarsgard's Pennywise is the other side of the more campier villains seen in the last few years in horror. This character is the only one in on the joke, the only one laughing while everyone else is running and screaming.
Jaeden Lieberher continues his assent as one of the strongest actors of his generation. After Midnight Special and The Confirmation, I was already becoming a fan of his. His performance in It as Bill Denbrough should cement him as some kind of character actor prodigy. Young Mr. Lieberher creates a truly complex character, someone with many, many layers, some of which conflict with his outer shell as he takes his first steps into manhood. Finn Wolfhard, of Stranger Things, plays Richie as a completely believably hyperactive kid, the kind of kid that would be prescribed with Ritalin if he wasn't growing up in Derry, Maine, home to a child killing evil that likes to dress up as a Victorian era clown.
And then there's Sophia Lillis. In a role that could easily have been played as love interest/damsel in distress, Ms Lillis brings the depth and charisma and charm and talent of someone with many more years of experience. This could be a star making moment for her. Seriously, it was like watching a young Jessica Chastain, someone so preternaturally talented it's kind of scary. The rest of the cast is truly, uniformly good, but these kids, the kids that make up the Losers, the heroes of the story, they are all something else. Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben), Chosen Jacobs (Mike), Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie), and Wyatt Oleff (Stan) with Mr. Lieberher, Mr. Wolfhard and Ms Lillis, all bring to the screen a feeling that these kids know each other, are comfortable with each other. That some of them have known each other since they were toddlers, that some of them may have just met but a bond has been struck. It's a pretty damn cool thing to see, especially from a cast this young.
The director, Andy Muschietti, and his team know that the scariest parts of life as a kid aren't always a scary clown. Sometimes, when you're a kid, it's the darkest shadows of a basement, what hides in a storm drain, the painting in your father's office. Sometimes it's the things you trust, the people you trust, turning against you. Sometimes it's the bully that has crossed from annoyance to psychotic. And, even more terrifying, is when the adults in your world are blind to these moments. And the filmmakers trust that their audience will remember some of those moments of horror from their own childhood and fill the shadows with the stuff of their own childhood terrors.
The bottom line here is It, the novel, served as one of the inspirations, as one of the touch points for season one of Stranger Things. And without the success of Stranger Things it is highly unlikely we would have gotten to see It, the movie. But, the fine studio folks financing It only allowed a budget roughly the size of Robert Downey, Jr's wardrobe allowance on Civil War. And they chased that R rating. And they earned it. Oh, they did. It might just be the most entertaining and successful R rated film about a child killing evil that likes to dress up as a Victorian clown of ever. Ever? Ever.