"Derry is not like any town I've been in before. People die or disappear six times the national average. And that's just grown ups. Kids are worse. Way, way worse."
A group of outcast kids discover their town is being haunted by an ancient evil that feasts of children. They decide to band together to stop the demonic entity before it can strike again.
Easily one of the most infamous Stephen King novels, due in large part to its monstrous length and the 1990 TV mini-series adaptation, It has finally been given the film adaptation it deserves. That being said, it’s not a film without its flaws. It does justice to the source material, creating a movie going experience that is sure to captivate and thrill audiences for years to come.
The real strength of the film lies in it’s casting. The entire cast of the Loser’s Club is superb, with each kid bringing their own flair to their specific roles. Standouts include Jaeden Lieberher (from last year’s incredibly underrated Midnight Special) whose character Bill acts as the lynchpin for the whole film. He’s got a lot of heaving lifting, not only as the pseudo-leader of the club but also as the main protagonist. Lieberher handles his characterisation with grace and elevates the role to beautiful naturalistic heights. However it’s Sophia Lillis who steals the film from the boys with her captivating performance as Beverly. Lillis performs a gracefully tightrope act, making Bev a character that is confident and strong while simultaneously being broken. She steals focus in every scene she’s in and you can’t help but instantly connect with her.
This adaptation manages to carry across the oddly playful tone that is exists in a lot of King’s writing, creating a mood that fluctuates nicely from spooky to oddly comedic with some heartfelt charm thrown in for good measure. The cinematography accentuates this with vivid and beautiful warm lit images that work to contrast the horror the kids themselves embroiled in. It doesn’t go for the Spielberg-esque style visual tropes of the 80s, but instead conveys it’s innocence through wonderfully composed wide shots that perfectly convey the vastness of the world the kids find themselves battling against. It’s a massive step-up from the dirty and dimly lit aesthetics that audiences have become accustomed to with horror films these days.
There is one major issue with the film however, and considering the subject matter it’s a rather large one. It’s not all that scary. Much has been made in the last few weeks about how ridiculously scary and shocking the film is but I honestly don’t see what all the hype is about. The films narrative deals with the nature of fear and the impact that has on us, however it chooses to expresses these themes with quick edits, jump cuts and loud obnoxious music rather than genuine terror. It’s not the filmmaker’s fault though, this has become the norm for modern horror film and by sticking to what audiences have become accustomed to they’ve ensured themselves a box office hit.
The lack of any true terror I think also stems from the casting of Bill Skarsgaard in the role of Pennywise. Skarsgaard delivers a captivating performance and should be commended for his efforts, however I don’t feel he was right for the role. What made Tim Curry stand out in the role originally was the weight he brought to his performance, meaning that the association of him as the character became almost scarier than what he delivered on screen. While Skarsgaard does his best to terrify the group of kids, it just doesn’t come across as threatening. I think this is due in large part to the age of the actor. By casting a man in his early 20s to be an ageless demonic threat terrorising kids only ten years his junior, they’ve put Pennywise in the same league as the bully characters, who actually end up being almost scarier because of the tangible threat they represent.
Putting those issues aside, It is a wonderfully constructed film with wonderfully endearing performances from it’s young cast. The film works best when it’s focus is the kid’s and their friendship, it’s just a shame that as a horror film it falls somewhat flat.
7 out of 10.
Reviewed by Chris Swan.