19 September 2017

It review

Is it sacrilege for a film critic to admit that his only knowledge of Stephen King comes in the form of Frank Darabont's adaptations of The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist? It certainly feels like it at the moment - every other review of Andy Muschietti's adaptation of It seems to be written by people well-acquainted with both the novel and the 1990 mini-series, and that can't help but paint me as at least somewhat ignorant when it comes to this film. That said, a fresh pair of eyes is often a useful perspective to have when it comes to adaptations of much beloved things, and from where I'm standing, It is nothing less than a damn fine horror movie, regardless of how much you do or don't know about the story beforehand.

Set over the course of roughly a year during the late 80's, It takes place in the small town of Derry, which despite looking like a fairly normal town has an unusually high rate of missing people cases, especially amongst children. After a young boy named Georgie goes missing during a rainstorm, his almost-teenage brother Bill becomes obsessed with finding him in the town's sewers - but soon discovers that there is something terrible lurking under the town, something that begins to hunt Bill and his group of friends by using their deepest, darkest fears against them.

It should probably go without saying that It offers a compelling story - it is, after all, based on arguably the most popular work of a highly respected and prolific author - but it's that which makes It as enjoyable and engaging as it is throughout. It's almost as much a coming-of-age film as it is a horror thanks to the way that fears of the self-described "Losers' Club" often represent a more general fear of growing up, and the characters we follow throughout - particularly Bill, Bev, Eddie and Richie - are believable, authentic ones whose interactions with one another ring true. They're so well-developed and enjoyable to spend time around that one has to wonder if It would have still been a decent, entertaining movie even if the horror aspects hadn't have worked - I know for sure that my interest in the second part of this story comes more from seeing how these characters will have grown and changed over the best part of three decades than it does in seeing them fight Pennywise the Dancing Clown for a second time.

Which itself is a credit to It's young main cast, all of whom are giving really great performances throughout - a good thing too, considering how easily the film would have fallen apart if even one of their performances hadn't been up to scratch. Obviously, Stranger Things' Finn Wolfhard is excellent as the mouthy Richie, but surprisingly he doesn't overshadow the rest of the cast - with the sole exception of Chosen Jacobs (who unfortunately simply doesn't get enough screen-time to leave much of an impression as Mike Hanlon) the entire "Losers' Club" have their time in the spotlight. Particularly brilliant are Sophia Lillis as Bev, Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie and Jackson Robert Scott as Georgie - Lillis really helps sell a number of scenes that could have come across as clichéd with a weaker actress in the role, Grazer's chemistry and on-screen bickering with the others is hugely entertaining and Scott may well be simultaneously the sweetest and the most terrifying 7 year old on the face of the planet.

But that's not to say that It stumbles when it comes to the horror - quite the contrary, in fact. For large stretches of it's running time It operates more as a montage of brilliant little set-pieces than it does a traditional narrative, and while that means the pacing and narrative clarity of the film suffers just a touch in places, it's hard to complain while the result is as purely entertaining as it is here. Between director Andy Muschietti's firm grasp of tone throughout, Chung-hoon Chung's gorgeous cinematography and a brilliantly unrestrained performance from Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, It always manages to achieve the effect it is going for, whether that be a subtly creepy moment in a library, outright terror in a darkened garage or virtually anything in between. There are a lot of elements in It that could have wound up feeling outdated or even cheesy in 2017 (it's about a child-eating clown who lives in a haunted house, after all), but from literally the opening scene It is performing a careful balancing act that ensures that's simply never the case.

There are minor nitpicks to made, of course - some of the needle-drops feel quite out of place, and it's a shame that the only black member of the "Losers' Club" feels so sidelined as a character - but they do little to hurt It in the grand scheme of things thanks to how purely enjoyable it is when it's firing on all cylinders, which just so happens to be for the majority of its running time. All in all, It ends up being the film that I imagine it was always meant to be - an enormously entertaining and effective horror with slightly more going on under the surface than most, and one I hope to revisit sooner rather than later.

4 stars

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