Movie Review: It (2017)
Growing up, I noticed my father had a lot of older editions of Stephen King works, including IT. I wasn't allowed to read them until I was much older, which given the content of them makes a lot of sense. I never saw the 1990 IT miniseries, but when I saw the trailer for the 2017 version of the film, I was actually somewhat scared. Given how inured I am to movie frights, that's saying something.
So although I wasn't able to see it the first week or two it was out, I eventually made my way up to Cumberland Mall to check it out. Now for the review...
The film begins in Derry, Maine in the late 1980s with stuttering Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) making a toy boat for his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). He doesn't really want to go play with him, so Georgie goes out alone...where he's first maimed and then abducted by a murderous fanged clown that speaks to him from a storm drain. Cut to the end of the school year, where we see Bill and his fellow outcast friends getting picked on by the vicious bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his gang, who also pick on overweight Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and African-American Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). Meanwhile, young Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) is bullied as a "slut" and "trash" by other girls and endures the creepy attentions of her father Alvin (Stephen Bogaert).
All these outcasts are drawn together by repeated attacks by a mysterious entity that appears to them in the form they most fear--sickly Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) is menaced by a leper, Ben by a headless child from a history of Derry he's read, Beverly by an explosion of blood and hair from a sink that shows her fear of puberty, and Stan (Wyatt Oleff) by a scary painting in his father's office come to life. They realize that every 27 years, something old and evil awakens in Derry to feed, particularly on children. It's after them now, but they're going to turn the tables.
*The final third to half of the film in which It renews its attacks on the kids and the kids descend into the underworld to rescue the abducted Beverly and deal with It once and for all is great. That was a seriously enjoyable part of film. I'm not going to go into a lot of details for spoiler reasons, but yes, it is possible for a brawl between a bunch of middle-schoolers and a Lovecraftian horror that appears in the form of a clown to be truly epic. And by deranging various adults (Eddie's smothering mother, Beverly's creepy dad) and Bowers and kidnapping Beverly to use as bait, It displays a great deal of tactical sense--using others as weapons, dividing the group, personally attacking their strongest member alone, playing on the cultural meme of "save the damsel in distress from the dragon" to lure the boys into a trap, etc.
*The acting is really good. Lieberher does a really good job as Bill, who takes command of the group and, when the time for rousing speeches comes, doesn't stutter at all. The scenes between him and Georgie and how he mourns for his brother have legitimate pathos. Finn Wolfhard is pretty funny as the motor-mouthed profanity-spewing Richie Tozier. Lillis plays Beverly as a combination of vulnerable, clever, and when things get nasty, Little Miss Badass. Seriously, although the film has been criticized for making her a damsel in distress where she NEVER was in the book (it's my understanding she's the one who wounds It and forces it to retreat), she's probably the physically fiercest of the bunch and, to It, the most dangerous. She's the first to lose her fear (which makes people vulnerable to Its attacks) and pretty handy with sharp objects and well-placed kicks. Jacobs is well-cast as Mike--as someone who works on his grandfather's farm and delivers meat to the butcher by bicycle, he's got the musculature the character requires and puts it to good use during the final fight with Bowers and It. Finally, Scott does a good job portraying the innocence of a child and a child's terror when attacked by a predator, including screaming for his beloved brother when It drags him into the sewer after biting his arm off.
*There's a good bit of humor in the film. Richie's inability to self-edit and motormouth tendencies are prominent. The scene where Beverly is sunning herself after swimming with the boys in the quarry and they're all gawking at her--only to immediately find other things to do when she starts to notice--was worth a laugh too. And a character going down a well is played like a pinball game--good riddance.
*The film only adapts the first half of the novel, with the second and final showdown between the now-adult kids and It slated for 2019. This not only allows for a much shorter film than the mammoth 1990s miniseries, but allows for a much closer focus on the kids as characters. The ending of the film does a good job setting this up.
*I like all the 1980s visual trappings of the film. Video arcades, New Kids on the Block, the styles of cars and housing, and the films playing in the theaters. Culturally it's also important--kids these days are less able to go full-blown "free range" like children of the 1980s or even the 1990s (I remember wandering the woods a lot by myself or with one or two friends), which is important for the movie to actually work. Also, Beverly being a covert smoker even from that age contributes to the "bad girl" image other characters have of her and plays a role in her story as an adult--her abusive husband justifies his behavior by claiming it's all to get her to stop smoking, which might explain why she puts up with it so long. Think the song "Smoking in the Boys' Room," only with a girl.
*Some of the grosser and disturbing aspects of the novel that kept me from finishing the book in the past and would have likely kept me from the film--animal abuse by the bullies, the infamous "sewer orgy"--have been cut out completely. The bullies are already bad enough and a group hug (and group attack on It) serve the bonding purposes King claimed in interviews the "sewer orgy" scene was supposed to represent. The article from Vox makes a point that the scene where the boys help Beverly clean the bathroom fulfills that purpose as well. Seriously, was King on drugs when he came up with that scene? And were his publisher and editors on drugs when they approved it?
*There's a "rock war" scene where the Losers come to the aid of Mike when Bowers and his gang attack him that's a pure Crowning Moment of Awesome for the Losers and a well-deserved humiliation for the bullies (that, unlike in the book, might have deterred them from joining Bowers in going after the Losers and might well have saved their lives). All to the tune of Anthrax no less.
*During the final battle, It reveals aspects of its true form that (I'm assuming) we'll see in all its glory in the sequel.
*The first half of the movie was really boring, to the point I got my phone out to (briefly I must emphasize--no more than a couple minutes) check Facebook even though you're REALLY, REALLY not supposed to do that in movie theaters. The kid drama was simply not interesting to me, even though it was important to set up the last half to one-third of the movie. Character development is important, but I didn't find it particularly interesting even though it had some of the strongest performances (Bill mourning his brother, Beverly cutting her hair and crying after her dad gets creepy).
*Although the film was really well-done, only the opening was really scary. The rest of it was more action-intense than frightening. I didn't really had a problem with this, but some viewers might.
*When the boys go swimming in the quarry, the underwear they're wearing makes them look like they're wearing diapers. I do remember wearing that style of underwear as a little-little kid during this time period (I was born in 1984), but I don't remember it being that puffy. They didn't have bathing suits?
The last third to half of the film is a lot of fun, but can't save it from the boring first part focused on the kid drama. Jeepers Creepers is a better horror film. 7.5 out of 10.
See it once and let's hope for a better sequel.