Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence/Horror, Bloody Images, and for Language
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga & Gary Dauberman
(based on the novel IT by Stephen King)
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton & Jackson Robert Scott
Stephen King’s 1,138-page-long novel IT was previously adapted into a mediocre TV miniseries. While the source material has been acclaimed as one of King’s best books, the miniseries has split folks down the middle. Some people consider it to be terrifying and others (myself included) consider it to be a missed opportunity that suffers from censored writing, bad acting, and worse effects. Tim Curry’s performance aside, it’s safe to say that I’m not a fan of the original IT and was looking forward to Warner Brother’s two-part R-rated film adaptation as a result. IT: Chapter One is the first half of the novel and the story as a whole, but holds up fantastically as its own feature that’s pretty much guaranteed to go down as a horror classic.
In October 1988, little seven-year-old Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) disappears…after meeting a creepy sewer-dwelling clown. The following summer, Georgie’s older brother Bill is still struggling to accept his brother’s death. Things get creepier for Bill and his friends when they all find themselves beset by their worst fears come to life. It turns out that there’s a shape-shifting, child-eating monster in town and its favorite form is as scary-as-hell Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard). It’s up to Bill and the rest of “The Losers Club” to defeat the monster before it eventually decides to chow down on one of them.
Where to begin with IT: Chapter One? This film nails a balance of scares, humor, and genuine emotion. Though this is a monster movie, the film dedicates a good chunk of time to developing its adolescent characters. There are seven members of “The Loser’s Club” and the script carefully focuses on certain plotlines more than others. Still, I cared about each of these characters and felt like I knew them all well. Jaeden Lieberher easily gets one of the most emotional story arcs as Bill, who’s mourning his brother’s passing. The only person to possibly rival Bill’s emotional journey is Sophia Lillis as Bev, the only female “Loser.” Bev is battling a horrible home-life and has a reputation for being a “slut” around town. Lillis and Lieberher are both outstanding to say the least.
That’s not to say that the rest of the young performers don’t pull their weight though, because they most certainly make strong impressions. Jeremy Ray Taylor is great as the overweight, intellectual new kid on the block Ben. Finn Wolfhard generates a lot of laughs as the foul-mouthed, dirty-minded Richie. Wyatt Oleff gets the least amount of screen time, but still seems believable as depressed Jewish kid Stan. Chosen Jacobs’s character of Mike has a sad backstory that is given some development, but this character will likely receive far more screen time as an adult in Chapter Two. Jack Dylan Grazer is also solid as hypochondriac Eddie, who’s dealing with his severely overprotective mother.
On the villainous side of things, Bill Skarsgard is phenomenal as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Skarsgard doesn’t try to imitate Tim Curry’s performance in any way, shape, or form. Instead, he makes this shape-shifting monster into his own creation. Skarsgard’s version of Pennywise has a strange way of talking, an almost child-like demeanor, and comes off as very disturbing. There are a couple of moments in which Pennywise did get a big laugh out of me (one scene involving three doors cracked me), but he’s pretty damn frightening for the most part. It’s not hard to make clowns scary, but Skarsgard’s Pennywise is an iconic movie monster (I’d say that he’s way scarier than Curry’s fun portrayal). Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Nicholas Hamilton’s performance as teenage psychopathic bully Henry Bowers. This character is pretty much a future serial killer in the making and serves as a human antagonist.
As far as the IT’s scares go, the film excels in the sequences where characters get separated from each other and come face-to-face with their worst fears. The CGI is impressively great, with monstrous creations of various kinds springing to life. I appreciated that this version of IT had the balls to include lots of creepy dead kids and body parts (that do indeed float). The gore isn’t the focus of this film, but the R rating amplifies the more intense moments. While the nightmarish imagery is fantastic, my only complaint arises from a single scene that got a little too over-the-top for me. The projector scene has already been given away in this film’s trailers and the main pay-off of this otherwise suspenseful moment made me roll my eyes.
Though this is technically the first half of a much larger story, IT: Chapter One is a fantastic horror flick. It might not terrify you from start to finish, but it will keep you entertained with laughs, scares, and genuinely emotional story arcs. The characters are fleshed out and these young cast members pull off stellar performances. The effects are damn impressive and the film’s atmosphere is effectively dark. I don’t think it would be much of a stretch at all to label IT: Chapter One as one of the best Stephen King adaptations to ever hit the silver screen. Now, comes the long wait for Chapter Two and it cannot arrive fast enough.