2017, Abusive Relationships, Ancient Evils, Angry Teenagers, Animated Corpses, Bad Girls, Based on a bestselling book, Based on a Classic Novel, Brutality, Cinema Knife Fights, Clowns, Coming of Age Movies, Compelling Characters, Creepy Movies, ensemble casts, evil clowns, Horror Movies, Intense Movies, Kids' Perspective, Monster Movies, Monsters, Remakes, Sociopathic Behavior, Stephen King Movies, Supernatural 0
Cinema Knife Fight Presents:
Review by L.L. Soares & Michael Arruda
(THE SCENE: A creepy sewer, with ankle-deep water, scurrying rats that can be heard but barely scene on the periphery, and strange noises. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES have flashlights and are navigating their way through the foul-smelling place).
MA: I know you like to have some authenticity for our reviews, but—(looks around)—seriously?
LS: How else can we review the movie IT without doing it in a sewer? It’s central to the story.
MA: Well, I can’t argue with you there, but I don’t really want to be down here too long. Why don’t we start our review? You go first.
LS: Okay. If our setting today seems familiar, it’s because this week’s movie is the latest Stephen King adaptation, IT (2017). IT began as a 1986 novel by King, and was adapted once before, as a two-part television miniseries in 1990, with a cast including the television stars Harry Anderson (NIGHT COURT, 1984 – 1992), John Ritter (THREE’S COMPANY, 1976–1984) and Richard Thomas (“John Boy” on THE WALTONS, 1971–1978). What people remember most from that original TV-movie, though, was Tim Curry’s performance as the evil clown, Pennywise. Pennywise is probably Curry’s second most remembered role, since he was also Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the midnight movie classic THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), which even now continues to play in midnight showings in cities across the country every weekend.
Despite its flaws, many people who grew up with the 1990 version of IT remember it fondly. But it makes sense that it would get remade, since it’s one of King’s most popular books, and it was severely limited at the time by the restrictions of television.
In the TV version, the story alternated between the past and “present,” showing the main characters in flashbacks as children. It also didn’t hurt that it aired over two nights, so one part could focus more on the past and the other could focus on the grown-up versions of the kids, and you could see the storylines back to back, without having to wait too long.
For this new version, the first film focuses on the kids only, and the first time they encountered Pennywise. A sequel is being planned that will take us on the adventure of the grown-up versions.
The story is probably familiar to a lot of our readers. A group of kids who are regularly bullied make up the “Loser’s Club,” Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher, also in ST. VINCENT, 2014, and MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, 2015), who has a stutter and is pretty much the leader of the group; wise-cracking Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard, also in the Netflix series STRANGER THINGS, a show that sometimes feels like a 1980s Stephen King story); asthmatic momma’s boy Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer, also in TALES OF HALLOWEEN, 2015); and Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff, who has also played Peter Quill as a kid in flashbacks in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies) who is the son of a rabbi and studying for his upcoming bar mitzvah. New additions to the Losers include Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) who is overweight, baby-faced, and the new kid in school (three strikes against him for the bullies), so he’s pretty much friendless until he joins the Losers, and Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) an orphan kid who is being raised (and homeschooled) by his sheep farmer grandfather. Another latecomer is a girl named Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), who is harassed by other girls at school and called a slut, even though it’s not true, but the truth is worse—she’s being molested at home by her creepy father (Stephen Bogaert).
Then there are the school bullies, led by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton, also in CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, 2016, and this year’s THE DARK TOWER), whose behavior often crosses the line from abusive over to straight-up psychotic, like the time he carves his name in Ben’s belly with a knife (well, he starts to, anyway) or the time he has one of his underlings put a cat on a shelf for target practice.
(There’s a splashing sound, and an anthropomorphic RAT steps forward, wearing clothes and holding a stick over his shoulder, attached to something wrapped in a kerchief)
MA: It’s a hobo rat!
LS: It’s Mickey Mouse!
RAT: Naw, I’m not Mickey. That’s my country cousin. My name’s Hickey.
MA: What are you doing down here?
LS: Did you get kicked out of the Magic Kingdom?
HICKEY (sounds excited): I’m seeing the world, having swell adventures! (Frowns) Naw, you’re right. I got kicked out. I’m not good enough for that Disney crowd.
LS: It might be the long, creepy tail.
MA: Or the big sharp teeth.
HICKEY: Could be. Or it could be that my cousin and his friends are stuck-up snobs who think they’re better than me!
MA: So where are you going now, Hickey?
HICKEY: I’m getting out of this sewer for one thing. It’s too creepy down here. (EXITS)
LS: Poor Hickey.
MA: Let’s get back to the review.
LS: Sure. Anyway, our heroes start seeing scary things that they’re not sure are real. Manifestations of things that scare them, like lepers and monsters and rooms full of blood. More than just seeing these things, some kids are actually getting killed and go missing, including Bill’s younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). It’s all being perpetrated by an ancient creature named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), a shape-shifting demon-type creature who likes to kill and eat children. Scaring them just adds flavor. Most of the time, he likes to appear as a clown.
The kids in the Town of Derry, Maine, where the story takes place, aren’t safe. Ben has found proof from the library that these murders come in cycles. The thing is, no one will believe or help the kids in the Loser’s Club (a lot of the adults in this movie are either useless or downright abusive themselves) so if they want the killings to stop, they have to take things in their own hands. But they’re only kids. And Pennywise is a powerful force.
(A Disembodied Voice): Hidey-Ho
MA: Who’s there? Who’s talking to us?
LS: I’m pretty sure the voice came from a turd that floated by us. Ewww—Gross!
MR. HANKY: Don’t be disgusted boys. It’s just me, Mr. Hankey!
LS: The Christmas Poo!
(MR. HANKEY rises from the water and floats in the air)
MR. HANKEY: That’s right! And it was so nice of you boys to come visit me in my home. No one comes down here much.
MA: We didn’t even know you lived down here.
LS: Yeah, get away from us, you smelly turd! (Splashes water at him)
MR. HANKEY: Haha. You’re getting that filthy gray water all over your hands.
MA: I think I’m going to be sick.
LS: Get out of here!
MR. HANKEY: Okie doke. I know when I’m not wanted. But I don’t come to your house and splash filthy sewer water at you! You are two very rude boys.
(MR. HANKEY settles back down on the water and floats away)
MA (gags): That was really awful.
LS: I know. Back to the review.
The cast, mostly made up of child actors, is very good here, especially Jaeden Lieberher as Bill, and Sophia Lillis as Beverly.
MA: Yes, the child actors are all excellent, and they’re in the part of the story that for me, works best in this film adaptation of IT. These kids are bullied and abused, and what happens to them in their everyday lives is every bit as disturbing as what happens to them when they encounter Pennywise. As a creature that preys on children, Pennywise is symbolic of the everyday evils these kids face in the real world.
When these kids bond and their friendships grow stronger, that for me, is the part of the film that works best, the relationships between this group of kids. And these child actors are more than up to the task of making it all work, and work well.
Jaeden Lieberher is excellent as Bill. A few years back, Lieberher stood out in ST. VINCENT, a comedy with Bill Murray that I liked a lot. Lieberher is just as good here. He plays Bill as a sensitive boy who, in the quest to learn what happened to his little brother, becomes resilient and strong-willed, the perfect leader of this group.
LS: We’ve seen him in several movies over the years, and Lieberher has really grown into being an effective actor. He’s terrific here.
MA: Sophia Lillis is also excellent as Beverly. Like Lieberher, she makes her character sensitive yet strong. These kids have been beaten back in life at a young age by those around them, and yet they somehow find the strength through each other to seek out and take on the evil Pennywise. Like the rest of the young actors in this one, Lillis is also incredibly believable in this role.
LS: I also like how the movie captures the feelings the boys have, being around this attractive girl who actually accepts them. It’s an almost magical feeling, best illustrated in a scene where Beverly is sunbathing and the boys are all dead quiet. Scenes like this really capture what it’s like being a kid, with new emotions you don’t fully understand, but can seem overwhelming.
I also enjoyed Jeremy Ray Taylor as the newest kid in town, Ben Hanscom. Finn Wolfhard makes a funny wisecracking Richie Tozier, even if he did look like he just rode his bike off the set of STRANGER THINGS. I also really liked Jack Dylan Grazer as the young hypochondriac who can’t stop talking about germs and illnesses. And I thought Nicholas Hamilton made Henry Bowers a very disturbing psychotic bully.
LS: One character I really wanted to know more about, who I felt was barely fleshed out at all, was Mike, the African-American kid. We don’t know a lot about him, aside from superficial things. He’s not given as much dimension as the other kids and I thought that was a missed opportunity.
But the kids are great overall. At first, I thought there were a few scenes where all the wisecracking and put-downs that normal kids fall back on so quickly felt stilted and a little stiff. But as the movie goes on, the actors seem to get more comfortable with each other and their interplay feels more genuine.
Bill Skarsgard who plays Pennywise is the son of the prolific actor Stellan Skasgard (GOOD WILL HUNTING, 1997) and brother of Alexander (TRUE BLOOD) Skarsgard. He was also Roman Godfrey on the Netflix series HEMLOCK GROVE (2013 – 2015), which I liked a lot, and was most recently in ATOMIC BLONDE (2017). Considering how iconic Tim Curry was as the original Pennywise, Skarsgard had some pretty big clown shoes to fill, and I thought he did a good job with the role by not trying to imitate Curry’s performance. His Pennywise is more childlike at times, with his oversized front teeth, and then he’ll suddenly become very menacing and scary. I liked his performance a lot.
MA: Yeah, Skarsgard is great as Pennywise. I wasn’t in the theater thinking about Tim Curry at all. Like the group of young actors in this one playing the group of Losers, Skarsgard delivers an excellent performance.
LS: The IT theatrical film was directed by Andy Muschietti, who previously gave us the 2013 horror film MAMA, with a screenplay by Cary Fukunaga (who also wrote and directed the movies SIN NOMBRE, 2009, BEASTS OF NO NATION, 2015, and who directed the first season of the HBO series TRUE DETECTIVE, 2014), Chase Palmer, and Gary Dauberman (who also wrote this year’s ANNABELLE: CREATION), based on King’s novel.
MA: I liked MAMA quite a bit, and so that makes two horror movies directed by Andy Muschietti that I’ve enjoyed.
LS: I also liked the film’s score by Benjamin Wallfisch, who also composed the music for V FOR VENDETTA (2005), 12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013), and A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2016).
I liked this one a lot and thought it was one of the better horror films I’ve seen this year, and one of the better Stephen King adaptations we’ve seen (much better than the last Stephen King adaptation, THE DARK TOWER). I give it three and a half knives.
MA: I liked this one, too, and yes, it ranks with some of the better horror films to come out this year, a year that has been a good one for horror movies. That being said, I liked it slightly less than you did.
Again, for me, what worked best in IT was the story of the group of friends. Their friendship, their hardships, what they go through together, all that works and is powerful storytelling, so much so that at times I forgot this was also a story about Pennywise.
And that’s one of the reasons I liked this one slightly less than you did. I absolutely loved Bill Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise, but his best scene is his first one. The scene where we first see him in the sewer is a terribly frightening sequence, and for me, the rest of the movie didn’t have sequences that were as good as this one. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if Pennywise disappears from the movie, because he’s in a decent number of scenes, but he doesn’t do enough in these scenes to give them the full impact they should have had. I loved that first scene. I wanted more scenes like this, though. Most of the scenes which come later feature Pennywise jumping out at the audience, but the scenes with him delivering creepy dialogue like he does in that first scene are few and far between.
LS: That first scene with Georgie is pretty terrific…
MA: Another thing I didn’t really like about this movie is I thought that it trivialized some of the awful things happening to the kids, especially the storyline with Beverly and her father. He’s obviously abusing her, and their scenes together are creepy, but this is serious stuff, and it deserves more serious treatment than a couple of quick scenes in a horror movie.
Likewise, bullying is a serious matter, and I thought the bullying scenes here were some of the weaker scenes in the movie. First of all, they weren’t unlike most other bullying scenes I’ve seen in other movies, and so there was a good deal of “here come the bullies to pick on our young characters” thoughts going on. These scenes weren’t refreshing or original. They seemed forced to me.
LS: But they did seem brutal. It wasn’t just name-calling and punches. Bowers is a full-on psycho who really wants to inflict pain on other kids.
MA: I can’t disagree with you there.
LS: While I agree the bullies aren’t as fleshed out as they could be, Bowers comes close. But his henchmen are kind of faceless. They’re physically solid enough to seem intimidating to the good kids, but for the most part, the bullies (aside from Bowers) pretty much just take up space.
MA: The bully scenes are brutal, that is true, but there was something missing from these scenes. It’s not a lack of character development, because we see quite clearly that it’s Bowers’ relationship with his father that is the cause of his bullying personality, but even these scenes where we see his father treat him so badly aren’t anything I hadn’t seen before. The bully scenes just weren’t as original or as well done as the scenes with Bill and his friends, and as such, took away from the seriousness of the issue.
LS: And I agree about Beverly and her father. That’s very disturbing stuff, and the movie just seems to skirt the surface of it. It’s not like I wanted more graphic proof of the abuse, but it does seem like the movie was afraid to go there too deeply.
MA: I said earlier that Pennywise is symbolic of the awful things happening to these kids in this town, and I believe this is true, so at times it seemed as if these bully scenes were only there to set up the Pennywise storyline.
LS: Not to give too much away, but there is a scene later on that kind of links the bullies and Pennywise, so there is a connection in what they represent as threats, like you said.
MA: I also didn’t find it all that scary. I thought it was a very creepy drama about these young kids who are terrorized by the adults in their lives, by their peers, and by a menacing supernatural entity known as Pennywise. The story hits a home run when it depicts these kids, but scores a lesser hit with the threats, which are all glossed over, including Pennywise, who I definitely wanted to know more about.
LS: Yeah, aside from his appetite and his sleep schedule, we don’t know a lot about Pennywise. This didn’t bother me as much as it did you, but it would have been nice to know more about him. And while I agree it wasn’t all-out scary, there was some nice suspense in the scenes where the kids confront Pennywise, in the sewers and in an abandoned house, and the creepiness factor was pretty good.
MA: But all this being said, it’s still a very good movie and like we’ve already said, one of the better horror movies of the year.
I give it three knives.
LS: I really liked this one a lot, and I’m looking forward to the second part, where we see these characters as adults.
MA: Okay, we’re done. How about we leave this sewer now?
LS: I thought I’d feed my pet first. That’s the whole reason I came down here.
MA: Pet? I thought you had an iguana or something? They don’t live in sewers.
LS: Can’t a guy have more than one pet?
MA: Well, sure, but—.
LS: Here boy! Come get your dinner. Here boy!
(A massive crocodile suddenly emerges from the sewer water.)
MA: Whoa! Say, I don’t see any food down here. Where’s his dinner?
(LS looks at MA):
MA: Now, wait a minute.
LS: Look behind you.
(MA turns and sees a half dozen roasted chickens hanging from the ceiling on hooks.)
MA: Oh. For a second I thought—. I’m not even going to ask where those chickens came from.
LS: From the supermarket. Where else?
MA: Of course.
© Copyright 2017 by L.L. Soares & Michael Arruda
LL Soares gives IT ~three and a half knives.
Michael Arruda gives IT ~three knives.