SO…this chapter was SUPPOSED to be another ‘Drive-In Double Feature’ review…but it’s not. Sorry folks…for those of you who were breathlessly awaiting another of those beauties…YOU’RE SHIT OUTTA LUCK! I dropped the ball. It was a Triple Feature, but my horror movie-loving GF (she’s awesome) noticed that the first two flicks, which were ‘IT’ and ‘Annabelle: Creation’. The third was some idiotic comedy (I think), but the idea of a Horror Movie Double Feature at the Drive In got its hook in her…and it was decided. That’s what Saturday’s plan was. So we got into our ‘sweats’, packed the pooch in the car and headed East. As with the previous two visits to this dying venue form, I marveled at the unique atmosphere, as people got comfy, walked dogs, smoked weed and grabbed confection grub under the steel grey sky (we’ve been hit with a LOT of wildfire smoke in our part of BC…it was just starting to clear). It’s a ‘muted’ festival atmosphere…and it’s great! ANYWAY…the point of this ramble is that…against my will….I found myself surprisingly comfortable, tucked into the passenger seat of my woman’s 2011 Elantra…and passed out about 20 minutes into ‘Annabelle’. I liked what I saw (despite having never seen the first, and apparently awful, 2014 ‘original’), but soon found my self watching different movies…on the backs of my eyelids. Therefore…I can’t honestly review it. So for this write-up…’IT’ is what you get.
When I was in my early teens (12-15), I went through a serious ‘Stephen King’ phase…I devoured his work! Couldn’t get enough. In that reading blitz, one book stands out…and it’s King’s 1986 classic ‘IT’. Aside from one or two ‘questionable’ scenes (pre-teen gang-bang?…really??!), it’s a great horror story; well imagined and written (though I can admit that it’s a bit more ‘sprawling’ than it needs to be), held aloft by solid and interesting characters (King’s great at THAT, is he not?)…and a scary-ass version of the Nightmare Clown that we ALL know is out there…somewhere. The book garnered plenty of attention and as a result, we ended up getting the classic (sorta) 1990 mini-series (filmed one city away from us!!…Yay Canada!!). I suspect a lot of the kind regard for that one is fueled by a shit-ton of nostalgia…and I suspect this because my lady and I recently (in the last year) went back and rewatched it. Time…has not been kind. Holy shit! It’s somehow SO 90’s…that it’s cheezy AND hip, all at once. Don’t worry…I don’t understand it either. There’s no denying that Tim Curry’s immortal portrayal of ‘Pennywise The Dancing Clown’ is classic and awesome. He was great. Nearly everything else is not…anymore. It FEELS like ‘TV’…if that makes any sense. It plays everything pretty safely…and the source material is anything but safe. ‘IT’, the novel, has an interesting blend of deep, unsettling horror mixed with a whimsical ‘Goonies’ element, for the portion focusing on the kids. This is intercut with sombre episodes of their return to the town of Derry, as adults, to fulfill a promise to face this evil entity again, should it return as calculated. The mini-series did what it could, within the confines of it’s particular medium…but I was definitely not opposed to the idea of Hollywood tossing this one into the Remake Machine, especially when I heard that they were bringing in writer /director Andy Muschietti, who’s 2013 horror entry ‘Mama’, successfully got under my skin when I first watched it watched it (see my review here:https://wordpress.com/posts/thekneejerkreaction.com?s=MAMA). I also liked that the gloves were off when it came to the MPAA…and R Rating was definitely deemed acceptable for this version…A-OK with me!
As the book is essentially two intertwining stories / time-lines, the filmmakers here made the smart move of splitting the book down the middle and separating the two story lines. This one focus’ on the kids.
In the town of Derry, Maine, a group of misfit youngsters, appropriately nicknamed ‘The Losers’, must navigate life through puberty, strangely indifferent adults, sadistic bullies, and messed up home lives, set to the eerie backdrop of increasing reports of missing children and teens. We are introduced to ‘Bill’ (Jaeden Lieberher), tormented by the gruesome murder / disappearance of his younger brother a year prior. ‘The Losers’ come together through a combination of torment by the local asshole kid ‘Henry’ (Nicholas Hamilton), a sadistic little shit who just happens to be the local sheriffs kid, and through bizarre and terrifying experiences involving a creepy bastard of a supernatural clown named ‘Pennywise’ (Bill Skarsgard), who seems intend on driving them insane…before murdering them. The kids realize that they need each other to fight back against their tormentors, mortal and otherwise.
‘IT” works better than I could’ve hoped. I really liked this one and it was refreshing to see a remake done right. It they do as well with Part 2, with the focus on the returning adults, then this will qualify as one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever…no bullshit.
The first asset is the cast. Muschietti did a stellar job in the casting of ‘The Losers’. Every one of those kids kicked ass with the characters and they all had a very real-feeling chemistry, that very much made me think of flicks like ‘The Goonies’ (1985) and more appropriately,’Stand By Me’ (1986), incidentally also one of the better adaptations of King’s work. The fact that this movie was fully willing to embrace that R Rating allowed the kids to let loose and talk like…well…kids. I vividly remember growing up in a sort of lower Middle Class suburbia around 8-15 years old and we swore like lil motherfuckers!! Just like these kids here…and it’s great! It helps to that they feel natural in their acting and dialogue…they felt like the kids they were portraying and the frequent F-bombs helped solidify that. Of course I have to mention Bill Skarsgard, an actor I’d never heard of, who was stepping into Tim Curry’s shoes to take over the mantle of ‘Pennywise’. Damn…I like what he did. I found his version surprisingly creepy…especially in his odd, disjointed speech pattern and jerky body movements. Curry’s version always felt like his own, sentient entity just being that kooky, murderous dancing clown, like a ‘Freddy’ or ‘Jason’….that’s just good ole ‘Pennywise’. Here…Skarsgards’s ‘Pennywise’ feels like a mechanism…something being controlled from afar by something that doesn’t FULLY comprehend it’s prey….kinda like how he is in the book. He felt ‘alien’…and that’s exactly how he’s supposed to feel. There was many a creepy moment with that fucking clown in this movie.
The atmosphere is spot-on. The 1989 setting is organically realized and the use of select tunes from the era helped round out that period ‘flavor’ (hmmm…saying ‘period flavor’ out loud sounded…gross). I especially liked the use of ‘Bust a Move’ by Young MC in a scene of levity in which it seems that ALL the boys in the group are suddenly hit by puberty in front of an oblivious ‘Beverly’ (Sophia Lillis), while suntanning at a lake. It was a genuinely funny moment…but not the only one. There’s a good sprinkle of ‘hilarious’ throughout the 135 minute run-time.
All in all, ‘IT’ exceeded my expectations and I had a really good time at the Drive In with IT. IT presented a tight narrative that’s faithful to the source material, and bolstered IT with interesting and amusing lead characters who all get moments to shine in among some inventive sequences of nasty and bat-shit crazy horror. The horror aspects are slick and are, for the most part, genuinely unsettling and proves that Muschietti was an inspired choice for the gig. This version of ‘Pennywise’ was also a treat to experience, as they’ve made him into a creepy and violent supernatural ‘Force To Be Reckoned With’ and I appreciated the havoc he caused. Now I’m genuinely intrigued to see him return in Part 2, when he has to face-off against these plucky kids, now as hardened adults. To fans of Stephen King or good horror movies in general, I can easily recommend ‘IT’. IT’s well written, well-acted, well-produced and well-directed, and is genuinely worth your time.