One of Stephen King’s most popular novels, the miniseries from the 90’s is also one of King’s most widely remembered adaptations, if only for the classic portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown by the one and only Tim Curry. Now IT has returned and it’s easily not only one of the best horror movies of the year, but just movies period.
Taking on only the first half of the massive novel when our protagonists, The Losers’ Club, are kids, the movie updates the time frame from the 50’s to the 80’s and the Losers all start to become stalked and terrified by an evil force that usually takes the form of a nasty looking clown but also takes the form of whatever scares the kids the most. De facto leader of the Losers, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), has the most personal stakes as his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is taken and killed by IT as the inciting incident to the Losers getting involved. All the kids are incredible and never feel like they are actors playing roles, they feel like actual kids in the 80’s dealing with crazy, scary shit and they also have tons of heart and you really get to care about them and that adds to the tension and fear as things with Pennywise escalate. There definitely is a hierarchy though as far as importance and just fleshing out of character that is sort of like a pyramid, with Bill at the top and then Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Ritchie (Finn Wolfhard) right under, who have a great back and forth with each other and deliver most of the movie’s humor. Beverly (Sophia Lillis) and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) are probably the next tier down as Ben is mostly just an exposition machine and the love triangle between Bev, Ben and Bill is not really fully realized and kind of feels like an afterthought. Stan (Wyatt Oleff) and Mike (Chosen Jacobs) are probably on the bottom tier, neither of them are bad by any stretch but they don’t really have a lot to do, although Mike does get a big moment with the movie’s non-demonic villain, Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). Bill Skarsgaard is great as well as Pennywise, doing something much more intense and sinister than Tim Curry, who had a lot of times where he felt like more of a wacky prankster. The comparison has been thrown around pretty much everywhere but it is really apt; Curry is like the Jack Nicholson version of The Joker and Skarsgaard is like the Heath Ledger version, both of them showing off different sides of the same character and both succeeding in their separate ways. Skarsgaard’s Pennywise also has a more disturbing and limber way of appearing and moving about, like when he contorts out of a cupboard or explodes out of a coffin and he also takes on many more forms than the Curry version, including a distorted, impressionistic flute player, a zombie leper, a headless body and more. The classic scenes from the mini-series are also done in an excellent, updated way, like when Bev’s bathroom explodes in blood, the new version is like the Evil Dead reboot as gallons and gallons of blood explode out of the sink.
Right off the bat, the new IT also doesn’t pull any punches and definitely earns it’s R rating as Georgie’s death is way more extreme than in the mini-series and there’s plenty more violence and creepy gore as the movie progresses and there’s some great set piece sequences, like when the kids explore the Well House to discover where Pennywise is hiding out and the climactic battle in the sewers. There’s also no restrictions on the kid’s banter, especially all of Ritchie’s hilarious dick jokes, and it feels like a throwback to things like The Monster Squad or Goonies, where kids could just say “shit” and make raunchy jokes and no one cared.
If you’re a fan of the novel, the original miniseries or just horror movies in general, the new IT is an excellent update that wisely cuts out and updates things while keeping the heart and spirit of the source material and delivers some crazy and scary thrills. Skarsgaard is a great new Pennywise and The Losers’ Club kids are charming and hilarious and you really care about what happens to them. This is definitely one of the best movies of the year and easily the best straight up horror movie, check it out as soon as you can.