Release: 15th January 2017
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
Seven young outcasts in Derry, Maine, are about to face their worst nightmare — an ancient, shape-shifting evil that emerges from the sewer every 27 years to prey on the town’s children. Banding together over the course of one horrifying summer, the friends must overcome their own personal fears to battle the murderous, bloodthirsty clown known as Pennywise.
When news broke that director Carey Fukunaga was walking away from his long gestating IT remake, expectations for a chilling and thoughtful redefining of Pennywise and the Losers club seemed to all but die a death. Even with the best of intentions, in retrospect, the original IT, in spite of Tim Curry’s deliciously wicked portrayal, is a relatively cheesy affair. So to turn that in to something other than a scary film for 11-year olds, it would take a deft hand to make this happen. Thankfully, relative newcomer Andy Muschietti has overcome the odds and actually made a pretty decent movie.
The key to this remake’s success is that is takes time to create what very few tent pole films do these days; it actually focuses on character rather than pretending to. Bill, Beverley, Richie and the rest of the Losers club might be too Stranger Things or Stand By Me for some people; what with all their adolescent cursing, nebbish idiosyncrasies, and Finn Wolfhard-ness, but you can’t argue that when these kids take to the screen, there is a certain charm to the dynamic Muschietti has created.
One of the key failings of the plot is its endless introductions, as we leap from kid to kid in an effort to lay out all the ground work before the actual plot can begin. The initial meetings with Pennywise are pretty pedestrian, and almost feel like a series of individual episodes of Are You Afraid Of The Dark stitched together. To Muschietti’s credit, Georgie’s death still hits home. In fact, it feels more tragic this time around, as he so lovingly sets out a sibling relationship between Georgie and Bill that is tender and sweet. So when the inevitable, and rather distressing, storm drain sequence comes, it is more tragic and upsetting than it is scary. And here lies another unforeseen impact this remake has; IT is really rather sad. This is a world devoid of trustworthy adults, these kids are in desperate need of a hug, and even the bullies warrant some sympathy. This IT universe might have its heart wholly set on nostalgia, but with this comes the painful and scary chasm between childhood and puberty.
On to the matter at hand, is Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise up to the task of scaring Tim Curry from his perch? In short, these are two very different clowns / monsters / aliens / orbs. Case in point, one looks like John Wayne Gacy on acid, the other looks like Ronald McDonald had sex with a nightmare. Curry’s Pennywise is broody and demonic, while Skarsgård’s is a squeaky voiced psycho. Both clowns fit their respective worlds, but an over reliance on CGI and some lame ‘incarnations’ (I’m looking at your painting lady) make Skarsgård’s Pennywise feel less like a fret and more like a jazzed up production sketch. Still, he’s creepy enough that you won’t be fishing paper boats out of drains any time soon.
This modern take on IT is arresting enough to warrant its existence, and fresh enough to feel like a more rounded interpretation of the source material. But there is too much of the monster to feel any weight when he appears, and the common crutch of computer effects minimizes any visceral fear. Also, a heavy handed production design also means that elements such as the old Neibolt House is more Monster House than the actual Monster House. The scares feel forced, whereas in the original it felt more cerebral, more organic. Yet a part two is on the way, and if Muschietti can learn from some of his mistakes here, the two films together might make some of the best Stephen King adaptations yet.
Film Grade: C+
Those hoping for the long awaited Pennywise origin scene will be sore to learn that it is being held back for a mooted Director’s Cut coming later this year. What you do get however is a bunch of Deleted Scenes, including one very funny alternate opening. You also get a decent look at the Making of Pennywise (worth a watch just to see how scared the kids really got) and a slightly irritating Losers Club love-in (i.e Kids talking like adults). Finally, a brief chat with Steven King offers some surface level comparisons between the film and the book. No doubt, much more material is being held back for the second cut of the film.
Special Features Grade: C
Too cute to be terrfying, and way funnier than you’d expect. Welcome to the world of comfortable horror. Sweet dreams.