In case you’ve been living beneath a rock and out of contact with any and all social media, this weekend the long-awaited film adaption of Stephen King’s It releases. Some of my friends look at the trailer for the new film and instantly reject what they see; they immediately cling to their memories of how the original mini-series scared them. One thing you’ll hear them all saying is how Tim Curry made such an impact on their lives and to this day gave them reason to fear clowns. While I respect their opinions, when you revisit the film, you can’t help but notice how dated the film is, and really, if you’re over the age of 10, it just isn’t scary. I grew up on reading Stephen King, and as a fan, I’ve always been frustrated that it seems no one could ever get his horror stories right. Sure, there is Misery and Carrie, but there are many more miserable failed attempts of his material. The Mist (especially the black and white version) is perhaps my favorite adaption of his work, that is to say, up until now.
When the film starts up, those of you familiar with the mini-series will perhaps have a sense of déjà vu at first. Without a doubt our first introduction to Pennywise, the dancing clown, is at first a little off-putting, but if you hang in there, you’re going to be happily terrified by this performance. Bill Skarsgard fills the clown shoes this time around, and there is no doubt a new generation of kids are going to be terrified of clowns because of this performance. There is nothing friendly in this performance, and after our introduction and we get a glimpse at what he’s capable of doing to children, that’s when the unease sets in, and as an audience member you realize from the start that no one in the film is safe.
The biggest change the film has from the mini-series and the book is the decision to have it shift from the 50’s to taking place in the late 80’s. With Stranger Things being the nostalgic rage on Netflix, it seems appropriate to take its target audience back to when many who will view this movie as adults had their childhood, when they first experienced the series or book.
This brings me to The Losers Club, our group of seven kids that we follow along with for their summer of terror. You maybe be coming into this film for the scares, but I guarantee it is the kids and their relationships in this film you’re going to walk away enjoying the most. The performances these kids give are genuine and definitely leave an impact. You’d think with there being seven it would be hard to flesh out all these characters, but between the writing, the performances, and most importantly their interactions with one another when we see one of them is in peril, we genuinely care and desperately want them to survive.
Mike (Chosen Jacobs) was always the last addition to The Losers Club, but in the film he is given more to do as he deals with some dark personal horror. Our first moment meeting the character he’s expected to kill a sheep with a bolt gun. This scene early on definitely makes it clear that this is not a film for the kids necessarily but definitely shines a light on the fact that some kids are forced to turn their back on their childhood and grow up far too soon. Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is in the same boat as Mike where she is forced to grow up far too soon. She’s looked down upon by everyone in town, even has adults making unsettling advances on her, and when it comes to her interactions with her father, well, it’s damn near impossible not to love this character when you see her with her friends. Lillis does so much with her performance as Beverly that you can only expect great things from her in the future. When it comes to casting the adult versions of these characters, you’re going to be hard pressed to find an adult who matches this talent, though my pick would be Amy Adams. The face that most will recognize from the group is Finn Wolfhard, who plays Richie. Wolfhard has had some success as one of the stars in Stranger Things, and here he does a great job at being the funny man of the group. Matching Richie with the comedic jabs is Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), who I thought was the scene-stealer in the group. But if there is a character in the group that I felt was lacking, it is Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) who is mostly the leader of the group, but unfortunately just doesn’t have the presence that reflects the role. To a larger degree it seems more that the group goes along with his decisions simply because they feel obligated, since he’s the one who lost his brother. There’s Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), who is the new kid at the school who has his not-so-secret crush on Beverly, and then there is Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), the quiet but practical one of the group.
Without the chemistry these kids have, there would be no movie. In the vein of Stand By Me and The Goonies, this is a film about the journey that the kids take as they lose their childhood innocence together. Pennywise feeds off of the fear of the innocent, and it’s why he’s killed the children of Derry for many years. The way Pennywise uses fear is very much in the same vein as how Freddy would use nightmares to pick off his victims in the Nightmare on Elm Street films, only Pennywise can get to you whenever he pleases. While I’m very much a fan of the performance, it’s the overuse of CGI with manipulating his features that become a distraction and easily pulled me out of the film, because it borders on cartoonish at one point.
There are still some really fun and creepy moments throughout the film, and like the book and mini-series, the threat to The Losers Club is not simply Pennywise. The other menace to the group is the town bully, Henry (Nicholas Hamlton) and his cronies. I could watch a whole film just about Henry and his friends raising hell in Derry; he’s such a great foe for our club to have to confront throughout the film, and there are points in the film where you can make the argument for who is the more sinister foe between Pennywise and Henry.
It’s the R rating that really took this film to the level it needed to be, going from being a fun horror story to being a great film. It’s not just about the blood and gore, though I’m so happy for the numerous bloody sequences in the film; instead it’s about the language. These kids are profane and vulgar, but why is that a big deal? Because it’s real; it’s how kids talk when they are out of the earshot of adults, and the random crude jokes they share amongst themselves reminds us that yes, they are kids. Sure, you could substitute their lines with cleaner PG-friendly material, but I guarantee it wouldn’t be the same, and these characters wouldn’t make the same impact. The film takes chances because of its rating as they discuss sexuality and other “mature” topics that would normally be ignored in a film with a tamer rating.
It is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The ultra-high-definition 2160p image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with an average bitrate of 55 mbps. Contrast and detail are the pillars on which this ultra-high-definition presentation thrives. It’s that HDR ability to allow both bright and dark spaces to coexist that bring out the most haunting moments. The confrontation between Georgie and Pennywise is a wonderful example. The creature’s clown face shines in brilliantly bright detail without disturbing the pitch-blackness of the surrounding sewer. This is the kind of atmosphere that makes this transfer stand out. Colors are vibrant only when they are intended to be. The red balloons offer bright reds without over-saturation to retain a creepy realistic look. The surfaces have nice texture that brings the old house alive for the viewer. Black levels are inky with plenty of eerie shadow definition, a true requirement for this movie.
The Dolby Atmos presentation defaults to a spooky 7.1 track. There is tremendously effective surround placement here. Atmosphere is supported by the slightest breath of the creature or the prattle of rain. Voices and creaks bring the old house to live for the film’s most immersive experience. Subs are rich and powerful, but not just for the requisite jump scenes. There is a nice bottom to the audio presentation that allows nice depth and power. Dialog comes through quite nicely. The score can be rather dynamic and fills the entire space or sits back and lets the silence soak in for a while.
Deleted Scenes: (15:18) There are 11 with no play-all option. The first is actually a clever joke deleted scene.
Pennywise Lives: (16:25) This behind-the-scenes-rich feature focuses on the creature and the actor who portrays him. We get a glimpse of the casting process, and Skarsgard gives us an intimate look into his process.
The Loser’s Club: (15:42) Meet the kids who star in the film in another behind-the-scenes feature. They talk about their chemistry and relationship with each other. You get a lot of the bonding process and plenty of them having fun on the set.
Author Of Fear: (13:51) Stephen King talks about writing the book and the themes he explored during the process.
There is a lot to enjoy and fear with this film. It is the movie that lived up to expectations but has now set the bar for the sequel that will be hard to match or even surpass. This is the film that can help remind people why Stephen King is considered the master of horror. This is the film that gives you reason to fear clowns and to be afraid of what may lurk in the shadows of your room or beneath your bed. It is the film that reminds us what it is like to be afraid once again and understand why we needed to leave the light on at night. Leave your expectations at the door and settle in with this film, allow yourself the pleasure to let your guard down, and enjoy the summer of terror and friendship that our Losers Club encounters.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani