I will be the first to admit that that I was extremely reluctant to accept the reality of a new “It” film. The original happened at a time when event television was still a “thing”. It, the original miniseries, during that area, during my formative years was a big deal. It was a fairy large endeavor with an ensemble cast at a time when King was well, not just King, but the grand emperor of horror. So some things don’t necessarily change: King is of course the still reigning royalty of literary horror. TV, however, well, entertainment is now a completely different monster. It’s significance, it’s delivery, it’s a completely different arena now, and because of that, I am more-so now than ever, a slave to nostalgia. So, there is an importance to me prefacing my hesitation. There’s history between myself and the miniseries. There’s quite frankly some damn good memories and the idea of a new film, strangely, might have been a weird question of loyalty. I have always held Curry’s performance as one of horror’s more iconic and as uneven as some of the miniseries might have been, it has always resonated with me even when revisited.
So you might be bracing yourself for a scathing criticism. You might be expecting a long string of expletives working towards a very noisy and very fiery crescendo of hate and dissent. Well, I have to say I’m very sorry to have to disappoint you. Director Andy Muschietti not only improves upon some of the lackluster elements of the original but his update is poised to supplant it as THE seminal adaptation.
I don’t feel the need to retread the storyline here as most of you (and yes, I am making a generalization about this site’s audience) already know the notes being played. Instead, let’s take a look at some of the performances. There is an emotional core to a large part of King’s It that has to work in order for the other pieces to fall in place. Mess that up and the rhythm is off from the very beginning. THIS is where Muschietti’s film takes flight and keeps itself aloft for much it it’s running time. The dynamic between Muschietti’s Losers is undeniable. This doesn’t just feel like a cast and that translates to the screen to such an effortless degree that we are no longer an audience, we are spectators. We can see Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard becoming Ritchie the comedian not out of design, but out of organic succession that was at times absent in the original. Likewise, Jayden Lieberher plays “Bill” to be real and sympathetic at the same time while allowing the character to take on a leadership that works in the group dynamic. And Bev?… the tomboy teen heartthrob. We all wanted Sophia Lillis to join our own version of The Losers. We all wanted at least some version of her to be the protagonist in our personal stories of first loves and long, unforgettable summers. It is what lies under the surface of Lillis’ portrayal of Bev that makes her both innocent and broken at the same time. It is this duality, in fact, that haunts The Losers individually. They cling to the dynamic of their group as much as they cling to what still makes them children, almost desperately so sometimes in a world that is pushing them to be adults. THAT is what lies insidiously at It’s core for me. Pennywise isn’t just eating children, “it” is eating childhood, preying on those fears that are also a vital part of our innocence.
One thing that can also be said about fear is the film’s lack of it when it comes to It’s R rating. As much as the film throws back to the golden age of horror in its setting, it also does so in its reluctance to pull punches. From the beginning sequence we get the impression that the fangs on this version are a little sharper, a little more carnivorous. Georgie’s death scene sets the tone for the violence in it and that it is unflinching and unwavering. This is a hard R as far as most hollywood horror faire is concerned. Not afraid to use very real blood when it needs to and not afraid to pepper adolescent dialogue with a hefty smattering of f-bombs and dick jokes. It is the film’s take-no-prisoners depiction of the threat of Pennywise that also helped to dispel a lot of the earlier trepidations that the film was nothing more than another franchise cash-grab. It prefers to reach for the throat as mush as it does for the wallet and comes away laving the audience ready to dig into both their deepest fears and deepest pockets for part 2. That’s not a bad thing in a world where the 2pm matinee that I saw the film at was practically sold out (this is also here in the somewhat rural midwest so if you are familiar with the geography you’ll understand the significance) and the 4:40 pm matinee was looking to head in the same direction. That is a very good thing for horror, and a good thing indeed for its fans.