So, the long-awaited (and notoriously troubled production) remake of Stephen King’s mammoth 1,138 page novel is finally here, but was it worth the wait?
Oh yes, it definitely was.
Literally every aspect of the film is just bang-on-the button. Opening to a surprisingly gruesome first kill, this is one film that doesn’t hang about and is not shy about laying its stall out from the very off-set: there is no big, dramatic build-up to Pennywise’s long-awaited reveal, he / It just…appears on screen and, of course, looms large throughout the film.
Even when It isn’t on-screen, the audience always suspects that It won’t be far away, and it’s to Director Andres Muschietti (‘Mama’) that this credit must go for creating such a palpable sense of skin-crawling dread.
The decision to update the novel from the Fifties to the Eighties had some King purists positively reeling, but for me (admittedly, never having read the book), this made the film all the more unsettling and engrossing as I was far more able to relate to a world of Shell-Suits, Street Fighter arcade games and New Kids On The Block posters (not that I ever had any of course) than the T-Birds, diners, drive-ins and Doo-Wop music of the novel.
Of course the Eighties setting and bantering-kids-riding-around-on-Choppers-trying-to-solve-a-terrifying-mystery will inevitably draw comparisons to Stranger Things (especially with the fabulously named Finn Wolfhard as smart-mouthed motor-mouth Richie Tozier again stealing all the best laughs), but any person really excited about this film would have grown up in the real Eighties anyway, so these comparisons actually accentuate the film rather than detract from it, with Spielberg, Joe Dante and George Lucas films being lovingly homaged throughout the entire film to a perfectly targeted audience.
The film should also be credited for being brave enough to deal with some very grown-up themes for a supposedly disposable mainstream horror film: racism, alienation, teen-angst, raging-hormones, burgeoning sexuality, some seriously vicious bullying and even child abuse are all given requisite screentime and it doesn’t just feel like a box-ticking exercise.
They all genuinely add to the story and flesh out the characters, helping you to care for them, root for them and feel saddened if – and when – they snuff it. Even Nicholas Hamilton as the film’s vile be-mulleted bully Henry Bowers (looking like the bastard love-child of The White Warlord from Assault On Precinct Thirteen and Ian Beale) is given surprising emotional depth and character complexity.
The film’s main strength lies is the fact that it manages to both play exactly to typical horror films conventions where the audience most expects it, and also to consistently wrong-foot the audience quite often where they least expect to be too.
Much like Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ from earlier this year too (which I was also a huge fan of), It is just tonally perfect: when It is funny, it is asbsolutely hilarious, when It is frightening, It is absolutely terrifying, and audiences are likely to emerge from the cinema with really tense muscles from all the expertly-ratched-up scares. Evidence of this can be found by watching the film in a packed cinema and listening to people jumping out of their skins and then laughing with great relief afterwards. Not only is it hilarious and terrifying, it is also touching, sweet and sad in all the right places too.
The 135 minute running time of the film is just the right length of time to give the large cast of characters room to grow on the audience, win affections (and hisses) inter-play with eachother like American ‘tween Inbetweeners, with such (clearly) genuine and entertaining chemistry before the next nerve-shredding set-piece is just around the corner (step forward the ‘slide projector’ scene).
Two special mentions must go to Bill Skarsgård for bravely taking on such an iconic horror role and really making it his own: gibbering, demented and constant sinister sniggering, it is a fantastically subtle and nuanced performance that will doubtlessly be studied and analysed by horror film fans for years to come. It’s as much about the guttural growling and plosive wording (“do you like…pop-pop-POPcorn, Georgie?”) as it is about the shrieking, screaming and cackling.
Second special mention must go to Emmy-Award winning costumer designer Janie Bryant for also taking on such an iconic horror character and doing something very different indeed with it, managing to create something completely ageless, other-wordly and terrifyingly ambiguous (for more information, read this article here http://ew.com/article/2016/08/16/pennywise-costume-stephen-king-it-movie ) and really bringing the horrifying evil startlingly to life.
All-in-all, both a fantastically funny, tender, sweet, coming-of-age, teen adolescence drama as well as being an absolutely terrifying horror film about an ancient evil that feeds on children every 27 years using the guise of a clown to lure them in and eat them (hardly a spoiler, we all know what It’s about, agreed?).
With Part Two promising to be even darker and (somehow) even scarier than Part One, the bar has well-and-truly been set high.
An absolute scream from start to finish, in both senses of the word.