First, a disclaimer. There WILL be spoilers in this post. Lots of spoilers. If you have not seen the new version of IT that is currently in theaters, you may want to hold off on reading this post.
Second disclaimer-I am a rabid Stephen King fan, and IT is one of my favorite King offerings. I have listened to the audiobook, narrated by the amazing Steven Weber, multiple times, in spite of it being a whopping 45+ hours long. I’ve also had an intensely Stephen-filled summer-my podcast has done an episode a month about Uncle Stevie, I spent two weekends in Bangor on a makeshift tour of some “Derry” sights, and, in a stroke of pure luck and, dare I say, destiny, I met Stephen King at a Dropkick Murphys concert. So I’m fangirling my dark little heart out-consider yourself warned.
Now that the fine print is out of the way, I want to state right off the bat that I loved the 90s TV movie-in spite of its obvious flaws (mainly every adult actor minus Tim Curry, and the wide detours from the source material). I was young and impressionable when it came out (as opposed to now, when I’m middle-aged and impressionable), and, like so many in my generation, it made a huge impression. I didn’t end up with a clown phobia, unlike pretty much everyone else I knew who watched it, but I did have a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. Tim Curry was magnificent-boisterous, with a bit of a “stranger danger” pedo vibe, his portrayal was basically an amalgamation of every cautionary tale our parents ever gave us.
The rest of the movie, from John Boy, to young Bill’s smudge-o’-chocolate fake mole, to Ritter Jack-Trippering all over Ben Hanscom, was a bit of a mess. Still, it delighted me. Getting to see one of the most deeply creepy tales I’d ever read brought to life was so unbelievably epic. We didn’t have cable (they literally didn’t run cable to the road I grew up on until I was close to moving out), so the fact that it was on network television made it even better.
I had my gripes, for sure. It bothered me that adult Bill wasn’t bald. It bothered me that they made Ben a n00b to Derry. It bothered me that the way it was edited made it seem as though they all attended school all summer, and seem like Ben started at a new school on the last day. But overall, it made me incredibly happy, warts (or fakest fake moles) and all.
But it didn’t scare me. The book scared me when I read it, but the movie just didn’t. As I got older, I hoped that maybe they would eventually remake it, but knew it was unlikely-the original, and Tim Curry as Pennywise, were too iconic to get rebooted.
When I heard there was going to be a new movie, I was completely thrilled. I tried very hard to remain chill about it, and not get my hopes up too much, but it was impossible, especially once stills and teasers and trailers started coming out.
Not sure about you, but those trailers rocked my world-they seemed to indicate that the new IT was going to capture far more of what skeeved me out about the book, and be less silly and poorly acted/plotted than the original TV movie, and I was chomping at the bit.
I was not disappointed.
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that when the lights in the theater went all the way down, and the opening credits started, I may or may not have teared up a bit. I’ve waited decades for a new version, and the anticipation of the last few months has had me pretty geared up. From the opening credits til the lights came back up, I was entranced.
Let me start with how beautifully they captured the vibe of Derry-from Niebolt Street, to the standpipe, to the barrens, everything felt *incredibly* New England in appearance. Derry plays a starring role in the book-it’s more than a setting, it’s a character. This version captured that incredibly well, and showed the idyllic surface with the rotting underbelly. In addition to capturing the underlying menace of the town itself, there were some nifty little homages to the book that added to the “local flavor”-seeing the Freese’s Department Store and Tracker Brothers shirts on characters warmed my cockles, and felt like a nice tip of the hat to fans of the book.
Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise blew me away. I wasn’t sure what to expect-Curry’s Pennywise is so iconic, and I wasn’t sure how Skarsgard could top it. But here’s the thing-it wasn’t a contest. Much like Nicholson’s Joker versus Ledger’s Joker, the two portrayals are so wholly different from each other, but both fantastic. I have zero doubt that Skarsgard’s Pennywise will cause many a case of coulrophobia for years to come, much like Curry’s Pennywise. They are just two entirely different animals. Where Curry’s Pennywise was very human, very silly and strangely charming, Skarsgard’s version made me think of an alien wearing a human suit-he goes through the motions of being a person, but everything is a little wrong, a little unsettling. This was partly due to the actor’s insanely creepy ability to make each of his eyes look in different directions, which added a really cool unease to watching him. It was also due to the redesign of Pennywise’s costume-making it look less cheap polyester and more ancient, defiled Victorian really lent a vibe of wrongness to the character. Skarsgard nailed it with his savage, barely contained rage and manic imitation of jovialty.
Chapter One of IT revolved around the Losers Club when they were kids, and, if miscast, the story could easily have fallen flat. Fortunately, the casting is completely on point. Jaeden Lieberher did an excellent job as Bill, nailing the stutter without making it an exaggerated mess, and getting the angry grief that was so evident in the book. Jeremy Ray Taylor was adorably awkward as Ben, and absolutely charmed me in the role, especially in the unrequited longing towards Bev. Speaking of Bevy, Sophia Lillis completely blew me away-her somber interactions with her creepy, abusive father showed some definite acting chops, but her relaxed joy when she was with her friends was also lovely. Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozier stole many a scene though-I adored him in Stranger Things, but he did Trash Mouth justice, perfectly capturing the slightly obnoxious but hilarious and lovable character perfectly, even throwing uneasy sarcasm when he was in situations that might leave others a sobbing mess. Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie was so achingly vulnerable at times, and so strong that he seemed to shock himself at times, and I thought he nailed it. Chosen Jacobs as Mike Hanlon wasn’t really given much to do, which was a shame-a lot of the things that made Mike Mike were meted out to other characters, or eliminated altogether, and it left Mike as more of a bit player than a full-fledged member of the Losers Club. Wyatt Oleff as Stan did a decent job, and was given a bit more to do than Mike, but I think that considering how he meets his end in the book and, presumably, Chapter Two, the filmmakers missed the mark a bit in making him indelible.
The other actors in the movie did a decent job-from Bev’s douchebag dad to the Losers Club’s tormentors (Henry, Belch, Victor and Patrick), they were all decently cast, but not used to their full abilities in some ways. I’m going to say it now-I was truly disappointed that they passed over the skin-crawling aspects of Patrick Hockstetter that are in the book. A child sociopath who kills his infant brother as well as any neighborhood pet he can get his hands on was, for me, one of the most horrifying parts of the book, and it’s a huge bummer that it was ignored in both versions of the movie. I know there is a Chapter Two coming, and I know they’ve mentioned there will be flashbacks to childhood in it, but I’m not getting my hopes up for more of the Hockstetter backstory. I felt like the villains beyond Pennywise didn’t *quite* capture the menace of their novel counterparts, but I don’t feel as though that fell on the shoulders of the actors.
Have I mentioned that in my perfect world, IT would have been three full-length movies rather than two, to fully capture the nuances of the 1,000+ page source material?
Let me be clear-my gripes were absolutely minor in my overall love of the movie. I’m nitpicking because I’m absolutely in love with the book (minus the awkward sex scene in the sewers, which, thankfully, was not featured in the movie), but there is still so much to adore about this film. Not only is it *beautifully* shot, but the acting, for the most part, is absolutely brilliant, and this version of Pennywise is so much more dreadful (in the best possible ways) for me. There were some additions to the mythos that may annoy some fans of the book, but it definitely felt like ways to build up to Chapter Two, and some may not like the shift of the past portions being set in the 80s rather than the 50s. I personally thought that shift in timeframe was an easy way to still have the nostalgia factor of a more innocent time without alienating younger crowds, which were rampant at the showing I attended.
IT left me wanting more-I’m dying to see how they cast and use the grownup Losers Club. I’m extremely optimistic, and can’t wait to see what they do.