Weekend Watch: IT Thrills

Pennywise the Dancing Clown as portrayed by Bill Skarsgård in 2017's IT

Remakes seldom work. They’re often poorly conceived, as well as poorly received. Occasionally, we get a movie remake that succeeds in being just as good, if not better, than the original, but it’s a rare treat.

The original 90’s TV-special adaption of Stephen King’s IT has become a cult horror classic over the years. While many have observed (myself included) that IT hasn’t aged very well, and that even for the time, it wasn’t very impressive, the iconic Pennywise performance by Tim Curry helped cement the adaption into the minds of many people. Any remake would have to meet or top Curry’s performance and capture the horror and heart of King’s story, at least as much as the original did.

I’m pleased to say that the first theatrical adaption of IT not only recaptures what made the original adaption so popular, it improves upon the original in every way.

The original had the problem of abruptly changing its tone from heartfelt drama, to horrific thriller, often feeling disjointed. The new iteration balances these two aspects of the story far better, thanks to the directing by newcomer Andy Muschietti, who has only previously directed 2013’s “Mama.”

Unlike the questionable, and often confusing, casting of the TV version, this film is cast to perfection. The actors portraying the members of the Loser’s Club give some of the best child acting performances so far this year. They transition from witty, irreverent banter, to scared, witless monster-victim in the blink of an eye. Their line delivery and quirks feel natural and give the cast an endearing nature.

Bill Skarsgård portrays the menacing, yet silly Pennywise like no other. Skarsgård’s performance re-imagines the character in a way that not only meets Curry’s classic performance, but in some ways surpasses it. Skarsgård’s stone cold glare and creepy smile hold your mind in barbed-wire tension that only gets tighter as the film progresses.

“IT” takes the backstory given to each child and executes it in an even more terrifying and effective fashion than the original version. Every uneasy glance the on-screen character makes towards an object is an opportunity for Pennywise to play towards their worst fears. More than just a fear factor, the background of the characters provides an emotionally effective commentary on coming-of-age and dealing with changes to one’s self and one’s family.

However, “IT” is not without flaws. The most prominent issue with the film is reliance on jump-scares. Instead of allowing the eerie tension to build to a crescendo, the film often plays its cards early, and to less scary effect (even so, it’s still pretty scary). If that wasn’t enough, one of the staple scares, when Pennywise suddenly rushes toward his victim, rapidly shaking his body, comes off more as silly and laughable than scary. The story also goes to unnecessary lengths to justify aspects of the narrative, making it less believable than if they had just left it a mystery.

Whether you’re a fan of the original adaptation, or just looking for a fun horror movie to see in preparation for the Halloween holiday, “IT” is sure to thrill.

Grade: B+