IT (2017) Review

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Inherently people dislike remakes. Perhaps because they do not provide the same feeling as the original, or they diminish it, or they seem unnecessary (talking to you, 1998 Psycho). Or maybe the remakes are simply bad films. Whatever the case may be, remakes should not always be taken lightly. Sometimes, rarely, there are gems. Look at John Carpenter’s The Thing—not only a great movie, but a fantastic remake, which still holds up today. The Thing is creative, necessarily modernized, and almost reinvents the original 1951 film. The same can be said about IT. With the time frame moved up approximately 30 years and a more focused story, IT, albeit not without flaws, is a remake worth watching.

From the beginning with the eerie piano playing, the well acted moment between brothers, the cool bird’s-eye-view in the rain, and the first encounter with Pennywise, it is clear IT is going to benefit from being updated. Going from a mini-series (It 1990) to a feature film is the first smart thing IT does. This movie improves from that change alone. The ability to be gory intensifies nearly every scene. There is blood everywhere, but it is well placed and aids the gruesome nature of the story. Another benefit of the modernization is the the shift in the time frame.

Feeding off the current 80s nostalgia trend, IT channels the children ensemble cast, as in Stand By Me and The Goonies (there’s even a Chunk and a Mouth).  IT embodies the 80s with subtle nods to era-appropriate movies, the arcade, and the Losers Club riding around town on bikes. Jumping to the 80s gives people who were fans of the original as kids a relatable time frame by tapping into their youth and retreading their old adolescent fears. Those fears are the focus of Pennywise.

Each time Pennywise introduces itself to a new character, it presents itself as something different. Another smart choice. From the fear of disease, to the fear of becoming a woman, Pennywise encompasses each child’s nightmare. Once they are horrified, it reveals itself to be more menacing and feeds off the despair it creates. This elevates the clown from a circus staple to the personification of fear, which aids the film in focusing on the children.

Ditching the adults-having-flashbacks framing device of the original amplifies the pacing in comparison. The change in pace keeps the focus on the kids. Audiences are never taken out of their world, which works because these kids are great. The opening with Bill and Georgie bonding boosts the emotional connection to them, which makes Georgie’s inevitable demise hit even harder. They are not the only ones to bring their A-game. Each kid pulls their own weight throughout, providing different elements to the story. Finn Wolfhard’s character is obnoxious, but in the best way. His performance stands out because it is well-acted, and he rarely shuts his mouth. All the kids feel real and relatable, making their eventual congregation feel organic. Outside the children, the only other performance worth mentioning (because all the adults are worthless) is Pennywise.

Now, it is well established that people adore Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise. Bill Skarsgard had a lot to live up to, and he does. The way he moves (sometimes robotic, sometimes fluid), the way he talks (sometimes fun, sometimes raspy), the way he interacts with the children (sometimes inviting, mostly terrifying), are all sadistic and anxiety-inducing. Where Curry is both comical and creepy, Skarsgard’s Pennywise is played straight and only borders on silliness a few times. Those silly moments are part of this movie's few flaws.

Intrinsically clowns are goofy. So it is understandable parts of Pennywise come off as such. Most moments when there is silliness it works, such as the creepy laugh. But there are other times, such as a dance sequence, which seem like they are supposed to be scary, but come off more comical than anything else. This sometimes underplays the effectiveness of Pennywise. These bits, partnered with other comedic elements, are where this film struggles most.

Do not misunderstand—this movie is hilarious. Nearly every joke lands. The only complaint here is there are moments the jokes are misplaced. Scenes will build tension and become creepy, then an unnecessary joke will be made and the tension is diffused. This is problematic because then the scare happens, and it does not hit as hard as it could. The scares get undercut by the humor. This only happens a few times, and for most, it will not be an unwelcome breath from the spooks.

As stated earlier, the adults in this movie are basically nonexistent. It works. The problem with this is there are things that happen without repercussions. For example, there are at least three people who are murdered, not directly by Pennywise, but by other humans. Those people get killed, and that is it. No mention of it after. Maybe that will be addressed if there is a part two, but for now it seems odd. 

Overall IT provides constant, thoughtful, well-placed scares. All the scares play on the well-acted young character’s fears, putting Pennywise next to Freddy Kruger’s fear-eating, terror-inducing threat to children. Through its use of dutch angles and intelligent, well-focused story line, IT creates an atmosphere both off-putting and inviting. By taking the bones of the original and creating a different, updated story, IT is a remake that will please fans of the original and those jumping in.

Further Viewing: It (1990) - to compare to the remake. And for one of Curry's best performances.