Do not go to Maine. If there was an anti-tourism board for Maine author Stephen King would be the president, chief treasurer and minutes taker as quite a few of his books deal with horrific events that take place in his home state. Vampires, rabid dogs and even aliens have plagued the residents of this New England state but it’s in King’s thousand page tome It that we are introduced to the most terrifying resident yet, Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Now adapting such a massive book is no easy task; in 1990 ABC and Warner brothers gave it a shot in mini-series form, with a limited degrees of success, but now in 2017 we get the version we’ve all been waiting for.
For those that remember the mini-series it’s almost a consensus that it’s the kid section and Tim Curry’s performance that worked, while the adult half of the mini-series kind of sucked, so with this remake director Andy Muschietti wisely decided to focus solely on the kids with the adult stuff to be handled at a later date. Like both the book and the mini-series the movie opens with seven year old Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) taking a paper sailboat, one that his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) made for him, on test run down the rain filled gutters of their small town of Derry. Things do not go well for Georgie, and unlike the mini-series his death here is damn bloody.
Public Service Announcement: I don’t want to seem harsh or rag on the stupidity of a poor little kid who is brutally murdered but Georgie’s decision to chat with a clown in the sewer, and his inevitable death, could be considered a case of Natural Selection. I advise all public school teachers to show this open sequence to their young charges because this kind of knowledge could later save their lives.
The movie follows the adventure of a group of kids known as “The Losers’ Club” as they try and figure out what’s the deal with all the deaths and missing kids that plague’s their home town; Bill Denbrough is obsessed with finding his missing brother despite everyone’s rational belief that the kid is dead, Ben Hascom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is the overweight member of the group and is the one who provides good historical information on the dark goings on in Derry though that role belonged to Mike Hanlon in the book), Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) is the only girl in “The Loser Club” and one could almost claim that a killer clown may actually be an improvement in her life when you consider she has an abusive father who gets a bit too handsy on a daily basis, Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) is the required “Mouth” of the group and the one mostly like to give de-facto leader Bill a hard time, Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer) a hypochondriac whose domineering mother barely lets him out of her sight, Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) is the skeptic in the group and who is more concerned about his Bar mitzvah than fighting monsters, and finally there is the outsider Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) the groups one member of colour and like all of the other kids in the group he has not had the easiest childhood.
For this movie director Andy Muschietti assembled a fantastic group of child actors as there is not one bad apple in the bunch, and Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hascom practically steals every moment he can, and then there is Bill Skarsgård creepy turn as the evil clown Pennywise, who easily steps out of the shadow of Tim Curry’s performance and makes the character his own. The editing, cinematography, music and visual effects for this film are all top notch, and more so impressive when you consider Muschietti only has a couple of films under his belt. Now one thing that should be pointed out is that this is not a stand-alone movie, some unaware viewers may be a bit shocked when the ending title card pops up reading Chapter One, but the story will be continued in a sequel and we can only hope that they find a group of adult actors as equal to the task as the kids we got for this installment.
As adaptions go this version of the book still had to make some massive changes, even with it being divided into two movies it’d be next to impossible to include everything from the book, but most of the changes I didn’t mind or in the case of the “Beverly has sex with all the members of The Losers’ Club” I was quite grateful they were omitted. I’ll admit to missing the werewolf stalking poor Ritchie through the bowels of the school’s basement, one of my favorite moments in the book, but the addition of stuff like a creepy-ass painting coming to life worked just as good. The biggest criticism I have is something that many horror movies and novels (this book included) are guilty of and that would be characters doing incredibly stupid things that you know you yourself wouldn’t be caught dead doing. When you watch this film you will find yourself wanting to yell at the screen, “What the hell are you kids doing?”
• Would you explore the town’s sewers in the hopes of finding missing children?
• Would you follow mysteriously placed Easter eggs down into your town library’s basement?
• Would you follow muddy footprints left by your dead little brother?
• Would you and your friends enter a house as creepy as the one presented here?
In fact The Losers’ Club needs a better leader than good ole Bill, his obsession with finding his dead brother makes him check his brain at the door; at one point in the movie he convinces the group to go into that creepy ass house, the one that apparently contains some ancient evil, and he doesn’t even suggest maybe getting a weapon or two? That kind of leadership you can do without. I will admit that he wasn’t the only one of the group to make questionable decisions, it did seem like every minute or two some kid wandered off alone, but as a leader he just doesn’t measure up.
But is the film scary? Freed from the constraints of network television not only is this film chock full of spine-tingling chills and jumps scares (not too many but just enough) it will have you on the edge of your seat and tossing your popcorn into the air. One factor to mention is that in most movies we tend not to see too much of “children in danger” but as this movie is about a creature that literally feeds on children (and their fear) that is what we get and we get it in spades. We also get more than just monster on child violence as there is the aforementioned creepy dad, who makes Beverly’s life a living hell, but then we also have the local bad boys, led by sociopathic Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), who hound our heroes at every turn because an ancient evil isn’t enough on their plate. Both the book and the movie are about fear and how children manage to deal with it; whether that fear stems from a horrible home life or headless ghosts who wants to see if you will “Float down here too.” it’s all stuff that Pennywise can use as ammo to fill his larder.
I’d say fans of Stephen King and the book It may be sad that somethings didn’t make the cut; I myself was surprised that not only was there no werewolf but also no mummy, gill-man or Frankenstein’s monster, maybe they were afraid of infringing on Universals Dark Universe, but that Muschietti left out the cosmic turtle I kind of half expected and of course I knew going in that there was no way in hell we’d get the sewer orgy with the kids. This is easily the best horror film I’ve seen this year, the suspense and scares hit all the right notes and the cast of kids were bar none fantastic. I can’t recommend this enough and let’s all hope that part two is just as good and breaks the curse of the mini-series.