"It" (2017) Review
I'm not sure where to start with this one.
Besides that sentence being a nice filler line, that sentence is absolutely true. It is a strange beast, the title character and the film itself. The film walks a razor thin line between horror and a genre I didn't expect to come within any distance of this review: Comedy.
I want to get that out of the way before I talk about anything else. This film appears have almost been deliberately mis-marketed as a twitchy scare fest when it's definitely not that. It has more in common with The Goonies than it does a hardcore R-rated horror film. However, the one thing that sets It apart from a movie like The Goonies is the part where it has an R-rating and uses that rating in some truly stunning ways.
(I don't usually put warnings like this into my reviews, but if you don't want to see some truly nasty things happen to some kids in a movie, then you probably shouldn't see this film as long as you live.)
The result is a tone that I wouldn't describe as horror or comedy. With that in mind, I've settled on using a personal favorite word of mine to describe the tone of It. I've settled on the word "gonzo." Because that's the only way I can describe some of the stuff that happens in this movie.
For the uninitiated, It is an incredibly famous novel by Stephen King about a group of kids called "The Losers Club" in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. The book is easily over a thousand pages long because of the timeline involved. The first half of the story takes place in the 1950s as The Losers Club discovers that their town is plagued by a strange murderous clown monster, the titular It, also known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. This film chooses to adapt the first half of the story and takes the 1950s setting and changes it into the late 1980s (the end credits refer to this film as "Chapter One").
There's a lot more to the concept of "It" than just the murderous clown, and this film does more to take advantage of the strange nature of the story. This is also its biggest flaw in some ways. Pennywise feeds on the fear of his victims, and CGI is used liberally to manifest these fears. Some of these sequences are genuinely horrifying, but some of them look a bit too fake for their own good. Luckily, all of them have fascinating visual payoffs of their own, so it takes the edge off of the sometimes subpar CGI.
Even if the CGI is occasionally subpar, its gorgeously framed by cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung. I'm mentioning him by name because he was the cinematographer behind the original Oldboy and its incredibly famous one-take claw hammer fight along with being a cinematographer for several other Chan-wook Park films including Stoker and The Handmaiden. Needless to say, It is incredibly well shot.
Beyond the technical merits, Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise is a true standout. When he's not augmented by CGI and simply performs in character, he's an electrifying and strange presence. He's oddly charming and utterly terrifying from one syllable to the next. While Skarsgård makes for a satisfying villain, the real stars of the show are The Losers Club themselves. This a fantastic collection of child actors, putting more work into this film then I ever expected.
They form the beating heart of the film, and that's vital. Turns out that a film becomes scarier when you care about the people that are being hunted by malevolent forces. The true standouts come in the form of Sophia Lillis as Beverly, the sole female member of The Losers Club, and Finn Wolfhard as Richie. Richie is a grade-A asshole of the highest caliber, but man is he actually pretty funny. Beverly, on the other hand, carries a lot of the emotional weight in the film. Unfortunately, they do shoehorn in a super uncomfortable subplot onto her, but the subplot ultimately works in the grander scheme of the film.
The weakest spots in the cast come in the form of bullies that attack and harass The Losers Club. They're just fine, but that's really all they are, and considering how damn good The Losers Club performers are, it becomes very noticeable. My only other major complaint is that some of the film's story logic seems a bit odd if you don't have familiarity with the book. Hopefully the inevitable sequel goes into more detail about why the adults don't seem to pay attention to Pennywise and how Pennywise can influence individuals in Derry.
But those complaints all but vanish during the third act. This is where I need the word gonzo more than anywhere else. The third act is gonzo and bonkers in ways that I never expected. There's a moment in particular between Pennywise and Beverly, where I almost howled with laughter. Until I didn't (also, I'm thoroughly convinced that we're going to see a looping gif of this scene in the future, you'll know what I'm talking about if you see It). This portion of the film is clearly where the most money was committed, the CGI in particular for Pennywise seems to look better during the climax. The filmmakers also wisely use the sequence to introduce some of the crazier elements of Pennywise and hint at It's strange origins.
I want to see this film again, now that I know what to expect from its tone. This feels like a unique film, especially in the studio horror world. The overall package of It is a super solid good film, incredibly entertaining and strangely endearing, especially for a "horror" film. Parts of It feel like they were conceived on a dare, the kind of weird concepts that you would think out loud but never commit to celluloid.
That might be the most Stephen King part of this adaptation, how fearlessly weird It is. Stephen King's books over the years have ranged from a girl with telekinesis getting pranked at prom all the way to a superflu's accidental release causing a war between the forces of good and evil (personified by a old woman on a farm and a flashy man in Las Vegas respectively). King's stories have an imagination of their own, and seeing It's truly gonzo tone is promising.
Because the inevitable sequel will have to go into even stranger territory if they want to keep doing this weird shit and I sincerely hope they get director Andy Muschietti to come back on board when they do just that.