Remakes and reboots seem to be the order of the day for Hollywood these days and no genre has suffered as much of this as horror. We’ve seen no shortage of classics remade and, unfortunately, they tend to fall short. The Poltergeist, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th remakes were meant to relaunch new franchises but bombed so hard that the sequels were canned. Halloween did get a sequel out but it seems to have stopped at that. I feel that the real reason for these remakes failing isn’t necessarily about bad acting or directing but more trying to mesh classic horror with modern horror. Classic horror didn’t have the ability to be as brutal as modern horror was, though there were some great practical effects, it was much more about making you afraid of what’s happening. Getting in your head, playing on your fears. Modern horror seems stuck on the jump scares and over the top gore fests and these two types of horror can’t really work together.
As I mentioned in my review of Annabelle Creation, modern horror isn’t in a great place and when I heard that often thought dead project of the IT remake was finally coming out, i was a little skeptical to say the least. Another film that had been in development hell for years, another remake and i wasn’t sure i was ready to see another one of my favourite horrors be trampled on but then the trailer dropped and, suddenly, i felt a little bit of hope. The film was finally completed by Andres Muschietti, who gave us the underrated gem Mama.
Now before I get into the review proper, a couple of notes: Like many people, I really enjoyed the original IT mini-series with Tim Curry, in particular, shining but nobody can deny that it hasn’t aged well and there’s a particular drop in quality in the second half. I always felt that most people had grown so attached to the younger versions that they couldn’t identify with their adult versions, coupled with some poor acting in places.
**Spoilers ahead. I will be talking about what I liked/didn’t like about the film and some scenes in particular. This may spoil parts of the story but i will try to minimize it**
IT is great. It probably works best for those who haven’t seen the original or read the book but it is still a real treat for those who have experienced IT before. The foreboding opening with Georgie going into the basement, even though I knew he was safe (for now) I felt uneasy, waiting for something to grab out at him but they hit us with a clever non-scare and he returns to his brother.
He then takes his paper boat outside and lets it loose in the street. He follows it and this leads to the early laugh of watching a kid run right into a barricade. Perhaps it’s because I’m a bit of an asshole, but I will always laugh at someone running into something. Georgie gathers himself and runs after his boat, but it falls away into a storm drain. The scene ends in a much more brutal fashion than the original but does a good job at not being as over the top as most modern horrors.
As the film goes on we are gradually introduced to the Losers club (Georgie’s brother Bill, Ben Beverly, Richie, Mike, Eddie and Stanley) and learn a bit about what makes each of them a loser, as well as what scares them. We are also introduced to the bullies, lead by Henry, who torment our heroes. Ben is the new kid on the block (if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll get it) and seems very interested in learning the local history, though I can’t help but feel this was done as an exposition dump, it still doesn’t feel too heavy-handed or unrealistic.
As the group grow closer they start to share their stories with each other and Ben reveals the town’s history of disappearances being abnormally high. They begin to realize, someone or something is hunting them. We learn of Beverly’s fear of her father, who is implied to be abusing her. Richie, the joker of the group, ironically reveals his fear of clowns. Mike’s fears lie in that he blames himself for his parents death. Eddie was raised by an overprotective mother and has become a germophobe. Stanley is afraid of disappointing his father and his fears generally manifest through painting in his father’s study.
The film does a great job of using the character’s own individual fears, which is bound to reflect in much of the audience in some way as well, to create moments of dread or terror. The young actors all do a tremendous job and not one of them lets the team down. Indeed it might be one of the most accurate portrayals of a group of 13/14 year olds that I’ve ever seen. Despite their age, they all give great performances and their humour really shines through. There are some great comedy moments spread throughout the film and many of them come from motor-mouth Richie (played by Finn Wolfhard, who you may recognize from Stranger Things).
The scares themselves are also plentiful and some really do hit their mark, of course this will come down to how susceptible each person is to each character’s fears and how likely you are to be caught by a jump scare but there are some moments that do linger with you. The one in particular for me was the garage scene, which we see briefly in the trailer. But the scares are also where the films biggest flaw lies, many of them just happen and then we move to the next scene, which is sometimes a funny scene. We need to linger a moment in fear, let the characters and the audience soak in the moment for a little bit. That’s how you create great horror moments!
Pennywise was always going to be a tough gig for anyone. Tim Curry haunts many people’s dreams to this day as his deranged version of the killer clown but that’s one of the major differences are between the two versions. I loved Curry’s portrayal but you never felt he was much more than a maniac in clown suit, whereas he’s meant to be an entity of pure evil. Bill Skarsgård gives us a deranged clown, perhaps even more terrifying than Curry’s but he also gives it something more. Early on it’s made clear that he isn’t just a clown and he’s definitely not human.
In his conversation with Georgie, he plays the goofy clown, trying to tempt him down into the sewer and seems to almost space out at one point. As he does this, one of his eyes actually turns and looks right at the camera and it’s been revealed that Skarsgård actually does this himself, it’s not a special effect…but it is very creepy and it’s a trick he uses a number of times in the film. He looks at us, begins to drool and his eyes begin to glow. It is very unsettling.
The film wraps with a showdown between the Losers and Pennywise at his “nest” in the sewers. We see his home, surrounded by the floating corpses of his past victims. He continues his psychological attacks on the group, with the scene between Georgie and Bill probably being the best in the film, but the group realize that their strength is being together and that together he can’t scare them or hurt them. It is here that he reveals that he feeds on their fears but also their flesh. He offers them a deal but t decline and beat him back. He retreats to an overflow pipe, seemingly crumbling away into nothing as the losers give chase. They then return to the surface and make a promise to each other, that if IT returns that they will too. The film ends with “End of Chapter One”. Hello sequel.
Good Points: All of the actors do a phenomenal job. Believable/realistic kids. Skarsgård as Pennywise is amazing. Clever mesh of fun and frights. Some good scares. The use of facial tracking on Pennywise is divisive, but I love it. When he’s tormenting someone the scene is focused on his face and everything else seems to move separately from him. Clever Pennywise placements throughout the film that’s not for the characters, it’s for us! He’s the clown at the fair, he’s in the library with Ben, he’s on the TV every time!
Bad Points: Some pacing issues and some issues with editing, it sometimes feels like scenes are just cut together, with no explanation as to how they got there (Bev’s bathroom fright>outside having a smoke).
Overall: I thoroughly enjoyed this film and would recommend it to anyone who likes a horror film. It’s not without its issues but, in my opinion, they’re minor issues. Watch it just for Bill Skarsgård if nothing else!!! 8/10