By Kevin Carney
Director: Andy Muschietti.
Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jackson Robert Scott, Bill Skarsgård.
Just as the titular entity wakes to wreak havoc every 27 years, another adaptation of Stephen King’s classic horror novel is upon us 27 years after the iconic miniseries.
It tells the story of the Losers’ Club, a gang of pre-teen misfits living in the town of Derry, Maine in 1989. Led by Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), they attempt to find out what happened to Bill’s missing brother Georgie. As their search progresses, they find themselves facing an enemy who can make their every nightmare a reality.
Mama director Andy Muschietti is at the head of this adaptation, and he takes the time to make the audience care about these characters. The Losers’ Club gives the film its heart, with each actor giving their character a distinct identity and the group sharing an instantly believable chemistry.
Lieberher’s Bill Denbrough is the strait-laced moral compass of the group, also comprising of eternal jokester Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), neurotic germaphobe Eddie Kasbrack (Jack Dylan Grazer), sweet-natured bookworm Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and logically-minded realist Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff). A particular standout is Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh, who begins the film as a disenfranchised loner but blossoms as she spends time with the group. Unfortunately, since he does not join the Losers’ Club until much later in the film, Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) feels underdeveloped compared to the others.
We see the friends in their everyday lives as several of them try to enjoy being kids for as long as they can before adulthood begins its inevitable arrival, with Stanley Uris preparing for his Bar Mitzvah and Mike Hanlon being taught how to kill sheep in an abattoir by his grandfather. The scenes where they have fun being kids provide a great sense of levity which provide much-needed relief from the more intense scenes featuring the school bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), Bill’s grieving parents, Eddie’s hypochondriac mother and Beverly’s abusive father.
But It only works if the eponymous entity is done right. Bill Skarsgård undoubtedly had the biggest shoes to fill (pun intended) of anyone in this adaptation. Tim Curry’s larger-than-life performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown is considered one of the scariest clowns in all of fiction.
Thankfully Skarsgård makes the role his own. With his goofy voice, creepy smile, deranged laughter and lanky frame that leaves him towering over his victims, this performance stands out from the previous portrayal, creating an antagonist that feels ever-present and unpredictable and has fun playing with his food before he eats it. The advances in special effects give this version a distinct advantage over the one in the miniseries in that he feels like a supernatural entity rather than just a man in a clown costume. However, certain of his other forms do not live up to their potential due to bad CGI.
Overall, It is a very strong character-driven horror film and coming-of-age story filled with a relatable group of heroes, a very effective villain and fascinating themes. It makes you invested in the characters for their journey through this film, as well as setting up the next.
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