31 Screams in October, Vol. 4, #19: It (2017)

Posted: October 19, 2018 in Movie Review

19. It (2017)

Director: Andy Muschietti

Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skårsgard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff

Coulrophobia, or fear of clowns, is a very serious thing. Clowns tend to freak out a sizable portion of the population. I am not one of them (my thing is melissophobia, the fear of bees), but I understand and sympathize. The entity in “It” knows how to take full advantage of this fear. In fact, It is gifted at using all types of fear against his intended victims. Still, it is coulrophobia which It seems to enjoy preying upon the most, and this results in a truly intimidating villain. Couple that with the fact that this thing comes from the mind of legendary horror novelist Stephen King, and… yeah… “It” is definitely no laughing matter.

In the small town of Derry, a seven-year-old boy named Georgie goes missing in October of 1988 while playing outside in the rain with a paper sailboat. We have a pretty good idea what happened and who/what did it, since we’re shown his encounter with a creature under the guise of a clown (Bill Skårsgard) living in the sewers. By the summer of 1989, everyone has come to terms with the idea that Georgie is dead… everyone except for his older brother Bill, (Jaeden Lieberher) who feels partly responsible for his disappearance. Determined to find out what happened to his brother, Bill enlists the aide of his friends: the foul-mouthed Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff) the germaphobe.

As though the boys didn’t have enough on their plate as social outcasts, they also have to deal with constant harassment from a gang of bullies led by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). He’s one of those psychotic kids you can just tell would become a danger to society as an adult. But even he’s nothing compared to what lies in wait. The group of four friends soon grows to seven with the additions of Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lilis). While Mike is taunted by the Bowers gang for being both African-American and an orphan, Ben is targeted both as the new kid in town and for being overweight.

Beverly just might have the saddest story of any of our seven protagonists. At school, she’s unjustly accused of being promiscuous, a story so widespread that practically everyone starts to believe it. At home, she’s being sexually abused by her father. In a fit of despair, she cuts off her long red hair, after which she resembles actress Molly Ringwald. For the most part, Beverly masks her inner vulnerability by projecting an aura of strength. This is particularly inspiring to Ben, who is smitten with Beverly. Bill, too, only had to glance at Beverly once before falling instantly in love.

Soon the group of friends now referring to themselves as “The Losers Club” are all being confronted by their greatest fears, and it dawns on them that this is the result of personal attacks all coming from the same creature. They have no other name for it other than “It” (which is effective enough), but Ben seems to have connected It to a series of disappearances in Derry that span centuries. It tends to favor children, since it is their fears which are the most easily manipulated. It also seems to favor the clown facade it used on Georgie, which greatly unnerves the coulrophobic Richie.

A confrontation with It leaves Eddie with a broken arm, and all except Bill and Beverly unwilling to seek out a second fight. Nevertheless, weeks later they are forced to regroup when Beverly (whom It seems to recognize as the group’s strongest member) is kidnapped by the creature. This leads to what the kids hope will be a final decisive battle, though anyone even superficially familiar with Stephen King’s “It” knows before the film’s final reveal that this is only the first half of the story.

Casting is important to any movie, but here it was absolutely essential that it be done with care. All of the young actors are cast to perfection. In particular, Sophia Lillis delivers such a tremendous performance as Beverly that she should be one to keep an eye on in the future. The inclusion of Finn Wolfhard in 2017’s “It” is intriguing, given that one of the main sources of inspiration for Netflix’s “Stranger Things” (Wolfhard’s most famous work) happens to be Stephen King’s “It.” I am very pleased that we will be seeing this cast of young actors again in 2019’s “It: Chapter Two,” even as the torch is passed to an adult cast which will include among others the likes of  Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader.

The casting of Bill Skårsgard was something I had looked forward to since I’d heard about it. I admit that I felt let down by his version of It as I was watching it, though I’ve had time since then to process and appreciate it. I think my problem resulted from unfairly comparing the performance of Skårsgard to that of Tim Curry’s iconic take on the character from the 1990 miniseries. That’s a mistake which I don’t intend to repeat when watching “Chapter Two.”

The only real problems I still have with “It” lie in the special effects and the lighting. Obviously, in this age of filmmaking, the tendency is inevitably going to be to rely on CGI. That can be fine, but too much reliance can run the risk of souring the experience. “It” never sinks quite that low in this area, but being that this film is set in the 1980s, I would think that practical effects would make the most sense. Take John Carpenter’s “The Thing” for example. The effects in that movie still hold up today (for the most part), and some of the things that It is required to do could have been pulled off… and been more aesthetically pleasing… using the same kind of techniques.

The lighting is an even bigger problem. Too often during the parts when the kids are confronting It, these scenes are far too darkly lit… to the point where it’s hard to tell who’s doing what to whom. What’s the most important aspect of any movie? Being able to see what’s going on! Despite these technical gripes, there’s enough that’s good about “It” that I can safely say that this movie is well-deserving of the praise which it has received from casual viewers and critics alike, even though I don’t happen to find clowns to be all that spooky.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I really liked your review. I think you nailed it! I loved the movie and was also VERY impressed with the casting and the performances. Like you, I look forward to PART II. Good job. Thanks!

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