Adapted from the much revered book by Stephen King, Andy Muschietti’s 2017 version of It tells the story of a group of troubled, bullied, misfit kids, later to call themselves the Losers Club, who are stalked by an evil, sewer-dwelling, shapeshifting being that preys on fear and who primarily appears as the clown, Pennywise. Realising that “It” is responsible for the disappearances of many children throughout the history of their hometown of Derry, they soon band together and attempt to stop it once and for all.
First of all, I would have to say that the first hour is a bit of a trial. Despite an admittedly excellent and harrowing opening sequence as well as a few select moments like the super nerve-shredding bathroom scene, much of the first half is full of scenes that you’d find in many a generic horror movie, with several of the kids hearing or seeing something strange and then sloooowly walking towards it, eventually running into some random scary creature or simply walking away from the encounter completely unscathed. Although it never crosses the line into tedium, the first half of the film takes its sweet time in laying the foundations, relying on a fair few horror movie tropes and making the audience (or more specifically, me) just waiting for Pennywise to reappear.
The film spends a great deal of time focusing on the growing bond between members of The Losers Club but the problem is that the central acting isn’t quite good enough to make it work and the pacing of these segments is a bit too slow; since the filmmakers are going to be adapting King’s story over the course of two (?) films, it seems like the parts with the kids in are stretched out far too much, filling the runtime as best they can, resulting in these heartfelt scenes feeling a little too forced and not helped by the accompanying score which, although great in other parts of the film, take a saccharine turn in these moments. It doesn’t quite have the genuine heart or humour of something like Stranger Things and the early group dynamic doesn’t hit home as well as it could have done.
But of course, there are also plenty of great scenes to experience and this is primarily thanks to Pennywise; as well as that aforementioned opening sequence, the confrontations inside the Well House are the highlights of the film because the design, especially of the “floating” and the “tower”, is admirable, the whole “haunted house” segment is a treat and the finale, although a bit hectic and frantically edited, is very exciting and unsettling, providing more than enough thrills and chills that are gripping and genuinely fulfilling to watch on the big screen. The special effects, as well as the overall design of the creature, are pretty decent and the score often gets satisfyingly eerie and tense, somewhat reminiscent of the classic Stephen King adaptations of years gone by.
Regarding the central group of kids, they’re all a fine bunch but there’s perhaps one or two too many of them and, as mentioned before, the central acting can be a bit ropey at times. The standouts are Jaeden Lieberher who plays “Stuttering Bill” Denbrough with genuine heart and bravery, Jeremy Ray Taylor who is perfectly likeable, resourceful and sweet as Ben and
Molly Ringwald Sophia Lillis is possibly head and shoulders above the rest, delivering an admirably confident turn as Beverly, an undeniably supportive character who deals with so much torment during the film and gets to eventually cut loose and kick ass towards the end. But, clearly moving away from being “the sensible one” in Stranger Things, Finn Wolfhard is miscast as the wisecracking smartass of the group, Ritchie, since his outrageous comments, barbs and insults fall flat and give the film a slightly uneven, misjudged tone.
While they’re not all perfect performances, the friendship bond in the central group does eventually develop very well and it thankfully gets to a point where we can effortlessly support them and will them to succeed; their “no man left behind” spirit as well as their bravery, loyalty, trust and solidarity in the face of pure evil is excellent to watch. Despite those problematic early sequences, the Losers do get to display some genuine heart by the end and their final meeting does well in showing just how far they’ve come together.
But of course, there’s no forgetting the man of the hour. Because as Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård is amazing. Completely stealing every scene that he’s in (THAT opening sequence!) and always leaving us wanting more, he throws himself into the role brilliantly and with his perfectly pitched voice, he is altogether sinister, magnetic, creepy and monstrous, with a certain dark, wicked sense of humour and a deranged, Joker-like playfulness. Pennywise is an undeniably unique, fascinating and menacing creation and Skarsgård makes it his own here, the Freddy Kreuger of this generation.
Perhaps a little too generic at times, with some shaky acting and a slow, prolonged first half, but saved by some brilliantly thrilling scenes inside the Well House and an incredible performance from Bill Skarsgård.
★ ★ ★
And yes, in chapter two, Beverly HAS to be played by Amy Adams, surely! Especially since the pharmacist told her that she looked like Lois Lane . . .