I have never really enjoyed a Stephen King film, with the notable exception of Carrie which is tremendous fun throughout, with a perfect cast and great script. It (1990) was one of several made-for-tv films in the 1990s that just did nothing for me.
A part of the problem is the setting in Middle America, with all its big houses and frumpy outfits – quite alien to a young boy growing up in England. I also found much of the action to be hammy, and Pennywise (generally considered one of Tim Curry’s greatest roles) was way to camp for my taste. Special effects were naturally less impressive then than they are now, and the dodgy editing and blurry, close-up camerawork made me laugh.
I’ve also never been able to get into any of Stephen Kings books – I’ve tried to read It, Carrie, Tommyknockers, Pet Sematary, basically anything I’d seen the film of. The writing is far to difficult for me. Too many unnecessary words. This may seem not entirely relevant to this review, however when you consider how many of the films have to be made into a multi-part TV serial spread over 3+ hours I suppose it is relevant after all.
So on to 2017’s new version. Two easy hours of viewing, though it only tells one side of the overall story. The book and 1990 film tell of the children facing Pennywise, whilst a parallel tale unfolds of the children as adults facing him one last time. The 2017 film is solely about the children (with a second part about the adults’ return planned to begin filming this year) and is better for it, more cohesive.
In discussing the film I’ve likened its suspense vs gore curve as akin to A Nightmare in Elm Street – a whole lot of creeping fear punctuated by occasional blood letting. Bill Skarsgård is perfectly cast as Pennywise, the titular “it”, presenting an immensely creepy take on the character. His voice, the facial expressions and body movement he employs truly personify the freaky weirdness of clowns in the context of horror. They are further backed up by some fun special effects, and whilst the CGI is not of the highest quality (often quite obviously overlaid on the film), the character design as Pennywise shape-shifts is imaginative and quite unsettling, taking you deep into the uncanny valley in a good way.
The rest of the cast perform admirably with no weak links in the main cast at least. Besides Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher and Sophia Lillis put in strong performances as Bill and Beverly respectively. As is often the case, though, the bullies come across the worst. Exaggerated in their cruelty and utterly unlikable, I suppose then that they did the job quite well!
The suspense through the whole film is fairly light for the most part, but there is always a lingering discomfort as you wait for the next incident for the children. Stalked both by the killer clown and by their bullies, I suspect I felt even more tense about this than even the children themselves.
Stylistically this film is a real winner. Pennywise is reimagined in the best way, and the overall aesthetic is strong. Definitely recommended for horror fans, this is one of my favourite horror films of this century.