Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Glazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton & Bill Skarsard.
Director: Andy Muschietti
The Story: Welcome to Derry, Maine. Schools out and The Losers Club; Bill, Ben, Beverly, Richie, Eddie, Mike and Stan are planning to enjoy their summer, but something insidious lurks in the dark sewers beneath this idyllic town. These 7 friends must stick together to conquer their own worst fears and defeat Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
Earlier this year, IT set the record for the largest number of views within a 24 hour period for its first trailer; 179 million of them, beating the previous record held by The Fate Of The Furious by 58 million views. At the time of writing, IT has broken box office records by taking $118 million upon its opening weekend in the US alone. That’s the highest September movie opening in history and the highest for a horror movie, eclipsing Paranormal Activity 3 by around $65 million. Not bad for a production that was labelled as troubled, when original director Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) left the project citing the old “creative differences” chestnut. He is still credited for the screenplay along with Chase Palmer and Gary Dauberman (Annabelle: Creation).
Enter sophomore director Andy Muschietti, whose first film the Del Toro produced Mama, delivered on chills, but a poorly rendered CGI entity lessened the films impact. It was however, a promising debut with an excellent cast. So, do we have any difficult second album hiccups here then? The answer is emphatically no, as Muschietti has delivered a movie big on heart, atmosphere and chills aplenty.
It’s 1988 and we open in the bedroom of sick teenager Bill (Lieberher - excellent) who is making a paper boat for his kid brother Georgie (Scott) to sail. It’s raining heavily as Georgie heads out to play, dropping his boat in to the fast moving stream of water on the road. As he realises it’s about to disappear down a storm drain he gives chase, but it’s too late. Suddenly, a set of piercing eyes emerges from the darkness of the drain...Pennywise (Skarsard) makes his terrifying entrance. This scene is arguably the most disturbing and strongest of the whole movie, as he lures the child to his inevitable fate. It’s a distressing moment that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
Stephen King’s source novel starts in the 1950’s, but here it’s wisely updated to begin in the 1980’s. For those of certain age like me (I’m 40), IT offers a wonderful wave of pure nostalgia and Easter Eggs. Lethal Weapon 2 showing in the local cinema, a Beetlejuice poster on the wall, making you feel rather fuzzy and warm. Of course, it also works for a wider audience, whose appetites have been recently whetted by Stranger Things, a show that owes a great debt to the same era and to IT itself.
The casting here is perfect; the chemistry and performances between the young leads is superb. All the characters have room to breathe and become fully formed, and in the case of Finn Wolfard’s Richie, bloody funny. Those moments of levity perfectly balance with the horror that unfolds. That said, Sophia Lillis is the breakout star here, with a greatly impressive turn as a Beverly. Without a mother she has to cope with not just her adolescence, but horrific abuse at the hands of her father. She also has one of the darkest encounters of the group, which homage's Johnny Depp’s death scene in A Nightmare On Elm Street, as a geyser of blood drenches her and the entire room she occupies.
There are those who have criticised the film for not being particularly frightening, but that's just not true. What IT does incredibly well, is to sustain an absolution feeling of dread throughout and doesn't rely on cheap jump scares. Pennywise stalks each of The Losers Club through a series of creepy and at times, deeply unsettling scenes, so when the big shocks come they really hit the mark. Pack. Spare. Pants.
Our heroes also suffer at the hands of the school bully (and Sheriffs son) Henry Bowers (Hamilton) and Co. These scenes are also troubling; Henry is clearly a fledgling psychopath and each encounter sees his behaviour escalate to the point that even his friends are shocked. Hamilton is another whose star is on the rise, starring in the other far more disappointing King adaptation of the summer, The Dark Tower.
Finally then, the big question...Tim Curry or Bill Skarsard. Whose Pennywise is the best? I've made my choice, but I'll let you decide for yourselves.
The Verdict 4/5
A tremendous rollercoaster of terror, perfectly wrapped up inside a wonderful coming of age story. IT has set a new benchmark for mainstream horror movies and frankly, Part 2 which is scheduled for 2019, cannot come soon enough.