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Review: IT

The Stephen King novel gets another scary adaptation. It was an ABC two-part miniseries in 1990 and now a big-screen feature film.  Our JP, who loves horror, gives us his take on the new film, starring Jaeden Lieberher and Bill Skarsgård.

BILL SKARSGÅRD as Pennywise in New Line Cinema’s horror thriller “IT,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo: Brooke Palmer.

IT
(Warner Bros)

  • Directed by Andy Muschietti
  • Produced by Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg, Barbara Muschietti
  • Screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman
  • Based on “It” by Stephen King
  • Starring Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård

Studio Synopsis:
New Line Cinema’s horror thriller “IT,” directed by Andy Muschietti (“Mama”), is based on the hugely popular Stephen King novel of the same name, which has been terrifying readers for decades. When children begin to disappear in the town of Derry, Maine, a group of young kids are faced with their biggest fears when they square off against an evil clown named Pennywise, whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries.

“IT” stars Bill Skarsgård (“Allegiant,” TV’s “Hemlock Grove”) as the story’s central villain, Pennywise. An ensemble of young actors also star in the film, including Jaeden Lieberher (“Midnight Special”), Jeremy Ray Taylor (“Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip”), Sophia Lillis (“37”), Finn Wolfhard (TV’s “Stranger Things”), Wyatt Oleff (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), Chosen Jacobs (upcoming “Cops and Robbers”), Jack Dylan Grazer (“Tales of Halloween”), Nicholas Hamilton (“Captain Fantastic”) and Jackson Robert Scott, making his film debut.

Muschietti directed “IT” from a screenplay by Chase Palmer & Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman, based on the novel by King. Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg and Barbara Muschietti are the producers, with Dave Neustadter, Walter Hamada, Richard Brener, Toby Emmerich, Marty P. Ewing, Doug Davison, Jon Silk and Niija Kuykendall serving as executive producers. The behind-the-scenes creative team included director of photography Chung-Hoon Chung (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”), production designer Claude Paré (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”), editor Jason Ballantine (“The Great Gatsby”), and costume designer Janie Bryant (TV’s “Mad Men”). The music was composed by Benjamin Wallfisch. New Line Cinema presents a Vertigo Entertainment/Lin Pictures/Katzsmith Production, “IT.” Released on September 8, 2017, the film will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Entertainment Company.

JP.’s Take:
“IT” (2017) is the stuff nightmares are made of. I can recall the moment the original 1990 miniseries was announced and having that chilling feeling watching it. Here we are 27 years later and I still have those chills in anticipation of viewing this reworking.

“IT” will creep into your psyche in such a way that you have to continue watching until the end. No matter how frightened you may get — you must face your fears. I have to admit there were things about this interpretation that had my hair standing on end. I believe it’s because of the dramatic build up of the friendship between the characters that writers Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Auberman have so vividly fleshed out.

Bill Skarsgård’s eerie portrayal of the sinister clown/creature Pennywise also contributes greatly to this version’s creepy atmosphere. Director Andy Muschietti allows those moments of childhood glee to breathe and spends time creating characters we can all get behind. Yet, I wasn’t so much as alarmed by the ghouls and monsters as I was with the total set-up. Not that they weren’t hauntingly frightening, as their disturbing behavior warranted guttural moans and shrieks.

I was struck more-so by those slow moments leading up to the initial scares. Muschietti places the youngsters in vulnerable situations, leaving them alone in dark places, where shadows play tricks on them. They hear and see things that aren’t really there, until the real horror is placed front and center with frenzied jolts. The demonic clown Pennywise hops out of nowhere to swoop up his victims one by one. Lurching corpses chase after the children and hold them captive. Even a distorted painting becomes an object to horrify the audience. And we as onlookers are tagging along with Bill Denbrough, Beverly Marsh, Ben Hanscom, Richie Tozier, Mike Hanlon, Eddie Kaspbrak and Stanly Uris as they journey through hell and high water.

This is what I consider good old fashion horror story telling. What develop are moments of bliss, laughter, sheer terror, and tragedy giving this story a human quality. The characters are plucky and their instances are weighty.

The cast is a factor that makes this film work on many levels. Bill Skarsgård is only in the film a handful of times, yet he is quite effective as the menacing Pennywise. There is something quite evil lurking behind those bright blue glowing eyes and toothy grin that will get under your skin. However, Skarsgård adds more of an impish, child-like appeal to a role that Tim Curry made so famously in the original miniseries. His presence is definitely felt even when he’s not there. It’s freakishly bone chilling.

(L-r) JAEDEN LIEBERHER as Bill Denbrough, JACK DYLAN GRAZER as Eddie Kaspbrak, FINN WOLFHARD as Richie Tozier, JEREMY RAY TAYLOR as Ben Hanscom, SOPHIA LILLIS as Beverly Marsh, WYATT OLEFF as Stanley Uris and CHOSEN JACOBS as Mike Hanlon (Warner Bros.)

Putting young actors at the forefront of a movie with such weight gives us a chance to invest our time and emotions into their plight. Seven youth calling themselves the “Losers” feels grounded in real life. I must give kudos to the entire cast for keeping the mood alive and thriving.:

  • Jaeden Lieberher is the plucky pack leader Bill Denbrough. He is the kid that won’t say die and enables the group to fight on and face their fears.
  • Sophia Lillis is the warrioress Beverly Marsh, who not only battles her own demons but fights alongside Denbrough and the gang against Pennywise. Even though she had earned a reputation of being the town harlot, she proves them all wrong.
  • Jeremy Ray Taylor is the kindhearted pick stick with guts, Ben Hanscom. He doesn’t allow anyone to get him down no matter how hard those school kids come down on him.
  • Finn Wolfhard plays the potty mouthed nerd Richie Tozier. He’s of course the non-stop comic relief of the bunch.
  • Chosen Jacobs is the steel willed Mike Hanlon. Although he at first is the reluctant soldier, he manages to muster up the bravery to conquer his fear.
  • Jack Dylan Grazer is the frail Eddie Kaspbrak, who eventually if apprehensively joins the crew in their fight to destroy the evil clown.
  • Wyatt Oleff as Stanly Uris who is haunted by a painting in the Rabbi’s study and like his counter parts puts up a valiant effort to battle evil.
  • Rounding out the cast is Jackson Robert Scott as the innocent and adorable Georgie Denbrough. He is Pennywise’s first victim, for which his tragic death stuns the small town of Derry, Maine. Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson and Owen Teague play Henry Bowers, Belch Huggins, Victor Criss and Patrick Hockstetter respectively. They are the town bullies who put a pounding the “Losers” crew.

When all was said and done I came out of “IT” feeling like the filmmakers did Stephen King’s novel and miniseries some justice. They handled it with such care and detail that it puts many of King’s novels to movies to shame. I cared about the characters and I got involved in their struggles. I also got a good fright out of the whole she-bang. So it appears I’m starting off my horror movie marathon early, as it usually takes place in October. “IT” will certainly be placed on my list of must see horror flicks of this year.

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Posted by a member of the "Sidewalks Entertainment" and SidewalksTV.com staff.