By Jason Abdow
When it comes to horror remakes, I understand the reasoning. If we are being honest with ourselves, many of the things audiences might have found terrifying a couple decades ago, might not be for scary for modern audiences. This is definitely the case for the 1990 TV miniseries that ABC made for Stephen King’s massive novel “It.”
Yes, Tim Curry was great in the role of the murderous clown Pennywise, but the visual effects and attempts at horror make the original incredibly outdated, which is why I was excited to see an updated, more mature take on the novel. For those unfamiliar with the book, or at least the section shown in this latest adaptation, it follows a group of children who live in the small town of Derry, Maine who are each being tormented by the aforementioned clown Pennywise, who is played excellently by Bill Skarsgård. So the first question that would naturally be asked about “It” would be, is it scary? Short answer, absolutely.
This is one of the most terrifying experiences I have had watching a horror movie in theaters, it is definitely one you will want to pay extra to see on a big screen. And while we are talking about scares, it is impossible not to talk about Pennywise himself. He is a wonderful and disturbing antagonist, finding a nice blend of subtle charisma on top of being horrific. Not only is some of the imagery used with Pennywise disgusting enough to make you want to cover your eyes, but some of the small characteristics with him will leave you unsettled.
For instances, in the first scene with him and Georgie, which was hinted in the trailer, you see Pennywise slowly begin to drool over the sight of a potential victim and his eyes remain a little off, never really staying completely centered. Several of the effects used to show Pennywise distorting and contorting his body were also as visually stunning as they were frightening. Also his teeth… that is all I will say about that.
The way “It” pushed its R rating was also another reminder that this should have always been made for mature audiences. This movie gets very violent at times, much more than I expected, and while it is gruesome, it never feels excessive like a “Saw” film would. But let this be a warning, if you have a problem with violence, particularly towards children, this might be one to avoid. It gets dark really fast, just after the first kill I found myself audible saying “oh my God” in disbelief of what I was seeing. Even beyond Pennywise, the imagery used to show each of the children’s deepest fears were also quite unnerving. And with all this praise I am giving to the horror aspect of this film, if I were being honest the part of this movie that works the best are the characters.
They each get time to develop, which makes this film’s 135 minute runtime an easier pill to swallow. It is almost impossible to pick real standouts, but I will do my best. Jaeden Lieberher, who plays the main kid Bill, floored me with his performance. It felt very mature for his age and when it came time for him to show real emotions, he was able to step up to the plate. The same goes for Sophia Lillis, who plays the abused and ostracized girl of the group, Beverly. But the person who surprised me the most was Finn Wolfhard, who plays the comedic relief Richie. For as terrifying as this movie can get, he manages to break the tension with snarky, well-timed punchlines and wit. It gives the audiences a reminder that the characters are all still awkward and immature children. Seeing these kids all bond over the course of the film really is the heart that lies under all of the horrific visuals. It gave me a similar feeling that last summer’s “Stranger Things” was able to last summer, except this time it was able to create just as strong a bond between these characters in only a little over two hours. It makes me very curious to see how the inevitable sequel will be able to capture these relationships 27 years later.
Even with all this praise, I have to address some flaws that keeps “It” from perfection. For one, the horror, while terrifying, can sometimes feel cheap. A pet peeve for modern horror movies for me has always been the loud “BANG!” and a sudden creepy image. I find that this is more of a natural reflex for you to jump at this rather than something that was impactful and meaningful. This is something “It” uses liberally and while I could overlook it at first, it did start to take me out of the film. Luckily, the images were still disturbing but it worries me that these jump scares will hurt the film as it ages. The bullies also felt a little underdeveloped which makes their extremely cruel acts seem all the more baffling. But these can easily be looked over to enjoy this film for what it wants to be.
A funny, heartfelt, character driven horror film and it is one of the best experiences you will have in theaters all year. Fans of horror, if you did not go out to see “It” yet, you are doing a major disservice. Even Stephen King will likely find themselves satisfied with this adaptation which from all accounts captures the novel’s horrors excellently. I have no doubt after seeing this, and all of the money it made opening weekend, that this will be seen as a classic for quite some time.