15 – 135mins – 2017
Tweaking the timeline of Stephen King’s thousand-word tome slightly, the filmmakers behind this box office-record breaking horror hit have, very shrewdly, hit upon a meta jackpot. While Derry is still the US town plagued by the eponymous clown-faced being, the decade has been shifted to the late 1980s and the frequency of its child-napping attacks reduced from 30 to every 27 years. Not only does this mean that the newly-greenlit sequel will take place in the modern day, its also a nice little nod to the fact that It first haunted audiences 27 years ago in ABC’s 1990 mini-series (reviewed HERE).
A lot of the online reactions to Andy Mama Muschietti’s It: Chapter One (as it is titled onscreen prior to the end credits) have polarised either cold or hot. Some have claimed that it simply isn’t scary for hard-core genre fans, while the other camp proclaim it the greatest horror film in recent history. For what its worth, I plump far nearer to the positive pole than the negative. Watching on opening night with a full theatre was a glorious and unifying experience akin to seeing Paranormal Activity – the punters knew they were likely to jump and shriek, and when they did the whole cinema was behind them. Shared scares.
Despite its bum-numbing length, the film is also superbly crafted, with likeable leads, first rate cinematography and a creepy antagonist. Bill Skarsgård and his chilling wide smile has done to Pennywise the Dancing Clown what Heath Ledger did to the Joker in The Dark Knight – brought a more sinister edge to an iconic evil which had already been so successfully portrayed before. Advances in CGI mean that the trans-dimensional demon is now more of a twisted shapeshifter than ever before, and while it is clear that the graphics are computer-crafted, this knowledge does not diminish your enjoyment of the effect or the terror of the moment.
Standout performance for me was courtesy of Finn Stranger Things Wolfhard as Richie Tozier, the “Trashmouth” of buddy gang The Losers Club. Finn brings humour, honesty and an endearing warmth to the pre-teens terrorised by their own biggest fears. While stutterer Bill (Jaeden The Book of Henry Lieberher) is painted as the de-facto leader, overweight Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) the new recruit and Bev (Sophia Lillis) as the glue which holds them all together, Richie is the memorable member and it will be a shame if Chapter Two doesn’t include flashbacks so we can experience more of his blunt wit and mocking delivery.
So, yes, 2017’s It adaptation is a horror by way of coming of age drama Stand By Me (a fellow King project) and retro dark sci-fi series Stranger Things, but since when has the assimilation of three star ingredients ever been a bad thing?! Clown phobics will still dive behind their popcorn, while there are plenty of diverse and equally icky morphings to spook even the hardest horror hound. I am so pleased that It – for all its fussy detractors – has floated rather than sunk. But then, the clue was in the quote all along: “You’ll float too…”
CR@B’s Claw Score: