A group of bullied kids band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.
September 8th, 2017
Stephen King (novel)
Jeremy Ray Taylor
Jack Dylan Grazer
I reckon I’ll probably get a lot of flak from the horror community for this – but IT should be in the running for some serious Oscar consideration, come awards season. And I’m not just talking technical awards, i.e. visual effects, make-up effects, etc. – but its certainly worthy of those things too.
Call me crazy, but I can see potential Oscar buzz for Pennywise himself, Bill Skarsgard.
And Best Picture rumblings? I sense them. Yes. Yes I do.
Why? Because the film is damn near perfect, and just because it’s horror (which is almost incidental to the story as a whole – but we’ll get to that later), shouldn’t exclude it from the joys and honors of the big awards.
As I mentioned in my article on “The IT Experience” (check out that article here), my exposure to the residents and tragedies of Derry, Maine – are minimal. I watched the 1990 mini-series as an adult and as a child, I read the first 100 pages of the book. I had the paperback and inexplicably never returned to finish my read.
As an aside (and as an ultimate recommendation of the film’s power), immediately following the screening, my husband and I jetted on over to Amazon to order a hardcover of this Stephen King classic.
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Here’s the lowdown:
It’s the late ‘80s and a group of outcast kids – self-christened “The Loser’s Club” experience similar frightening episodes, when several other children in their small Maine town go missing. And these encounters all revolve around a creepy clown named Pennywise (played by Bill Skarsgard). As the danger to themselves heightens, they must follow the clues and work to protect one another before it’s too late.
Other than one actor in the child ensemble at the center of the film – IT is acting perfection. I’ll not call out the shortcoming, so perhaps you can figure that out on your own. And it wasn’t a bad performance by any means, but when this actor took center stage – I felt a pronounced dip in quality.
And that’s basically the only negative I found in the entire film – in any of the departments.
But the best acting comes from Sophia Lillis as Beverly – the group’s only female. Despite the horrible things in each child’s history, it’s arguable that Beverly has the most difficult background to overcome. And what Lillis does with Beverly’s pain is mesmerizing. It probably doesn’t require even saying this, but Lillis is destined for greatness, fame and award-winning A-list status.
Call-outs to Jack Dylan Grazer as hypochondriac Eddie and Jeremy Ray Taylor as “new kid” Ben. The fact that they are my favorites (can’t figure out which one I liked better), owes as much to their realistic and glowing performances, as it does to the amazing dialogue and situations their characters are given.
On that note, the film has plenty of character humor brought to life by some pretty impressive dialogue. Eddie gets the biggest laugh in the entire film – in a line revolving around the many pills he takes. Love. Love. Love.
Sure, the plights of the children in the film are IT’s central focus, but stealing the show every time he appears, is Bill Skarsgard as the enigmatic Pennywise. I don’t want to say much, since the beauty in his performance just needs to be experienced – but there’s surprisingly so much depth (and unsettling menace) from what is an inhuman character. I’m not necessarily fond of clowns, but I certainly don’t suffer from something as deep as an actual phobia. But Skarsgard brings something so chilling and dangerous to the role – you’ll be reminded of things in your childhood – creepy vans, “stranger danger” and “don’t take candy from strangers”. All of those dire warnings you received as a kid – and the somewhat absurd fear they instilled in you at an early age – all of these buried feelings and irrational triggers – are brought to the fore by Pennywise. And it would be easy to say it’s just the make-up and supporting special effects which make Skarsgard’s performance so impressive. Yes, they’re great – but the first time we see Pennywise, in the gutter – it’s Skarsgard’s line delivery and crazy eyes which will blow your mind. If there were to be a possible Oscar nomination for Skarsgard – certainly this scene would be his Oscar clip.
As for that opening sequence with Georgie and his paper boat in the rain – it will no doubt end up the stuff of cinematic legend. There’s a little known thriller from the ‘80s called Smooth Talk (starring Treat Williams and Laura Dern) – which came to mind as I was transported to an almost out-of-body experience in IT’s opening moments.
In Smooth Talk, Treat Williams is a mysterious drifter who stands outside of Laura Dern’s country home. Dern’s teenaged character is alone, and the scene is basically Williams talking/manipulating/convincing Dern to open the flimsy screen-door and let him in – but to what end? I remember this scene being almost hypnotic in its perverse magic and unbearable tension – and that’s exactly the same feeling I had as Georgie encounters Pennywise in the gutter. It’s quiet, it’s subtle and completely disturbing. And then it turns even darker. This scene is also full of wonderful details – including one of the only witnesses to the event – a curious cat intently watching on a nearby porch.
The film is brilliantly structured. As each child in the “Loser’s Club” experiences Pennywise or his many incarnations first-hand (a couple of which will haunt my sleeping hours for weeks to come), you’ll not only get extremely memorable frights (every single time), but you’ll also get insights into the characters – their histories, their fears and their family lives. It’s such smart and efficient film-making (scares and exposition in one!), you’ll have to take a moment to silently applaud as each scene comes to an end.
As I mentioned above, the horror in the film is almost incidental. King has shown us time and time again that his child characters (certainly the ones in gangs/groups) are all about the deepest of friendships and the fiercest of loyalties. IT takes a cue from Gordy and gang in Stand by Me. Each of IT’s characters are richly drawn and you’ll feel sympathy for each and every one of them. But when they come together as a group – their drama and “to-the-bitter-end” loyalties – will melt your heart, catch your throat and will make your childhood nostalgia soar.
More than once, I got choked up and shed a few tears. And that is the beauty of IT. Yes, it’s frightening and a wonderful cinematic site to behold (the reveal of It’s lair is breathtaking), but it is the lovely and detailed characters and their relationships with their fellow “Losers Club” members which will last in your memory – far beyond the scary set pieces and effective, almost-constant “boo” moments.
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Take note horror filmmakers – when you make your scares and your suspense secondary only to your characters, your actors’ performances and the truest of journeys – you cannot lose. And lo and behold, when we deeply feel for these folks up on the screen, the horror is all the more pulse-pounding, effective and amazing. It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But this kismet, this magic and this perfect combination is an almost unattainable feat.
Simply – IT gets everything right.
A few lovely Easter eggs: In one particular clown-filled sequence, keep an eye on the many clown visages which will pass by on the screen. One clown face/clown costume will be ultra-familiar and I found it to be a most inspired and nostalgic touch. Nicely done.
And harking back to the “choked up” description – another seemingly throwaway detail is the book/story which is in one of the character’s bedrooms. When I realized the relevance of the presence of that fairy tale near the climax – that familiar lump in my throat rose up again.
As I mentioned above, my time with this concept is limited. So I can’t speak for the die-hards who have read the book and have been waiting in breathless anticipation for this. I honestly think that going in mostly blind allowed me to more fully enjoy surprises, discover new characters and truly experience this from the ground up. Can the same be said for those who already adore Derry and all that that haunted place entails? I just don’t know. I’m simply saying, if you’re already obsessed with IT and have impossibly high expectations, then take my praise with a grain of salt.
But know this: preconceptions or not, IT is a wonderful, powerful, magical and terrifying film on its own merits.
And finally – I’ve had a sort of running tally for the best horror films of the year – going through my head (as I do every year). And like years past – I’ve been ranking pictures as I go – figuring out how the dominoes might fall on my year end list.
Right now – I can say without hesitation – that IT has not only a spot on that list, but a potential 1st place ranking.
Melodramatic? Jumping the gun? Maybe. In the remaining four months of the year – I’ll wait for something to prove me wrong. There’s also the matter of how the film lingers in my mind – when discussing final placement on my list.
RELATED ARTICLE: PENNYWISE INTERVIEW! (BILL SKARSGARD OF “IT”)
But even with my one (minor) complaint, I will be offering up my rare 5-STAR RATING for this film. This one small hiccup can’t erase the stunning quality of the rest of the film’s many inspired and intricate pieces.
So call me out if you must, but as always, I calls ’em as I sees ’em. So a 5-star score it is.
IT opens in theatres nationwide on September 8th, 2017. It’s a do-not-miss all the way around.