Our overall verdict "Excellent"

[Review] Pennywise revival is the rebirth of the horror genre
Author: Lisha Blackhurst

When assembling this review, no alternate structure felt apt unless the IT [1990] TV adaptation was paramount and at the forefront of it all. As a young child with a morbid curiosity and a voracious appetite of all things frightening, Pennywise and his countless forms represented everything that was scary and forbidden, as I stayed up late to secretly gorge on the films that I wouldn’t be permitted to view by the light of day. Despite having been directed for television viewers on a shoestring TV-mini-series budget and narrow timescale, I have always regarded the feature as one of my favourite horror “movies” of all time, and even with its flaws and lack of attention to the book [Wallace did admit to only reading the book AFTER he had finished filming], IT and The Loser’s Club will always be a part of my childhood.

When it was first announced that IT would be receiving the contemporary makeover, I was sincerely devastated, concerned that IT would befall the same fate as the other countless, regurgitated, money-wielding blockbusters of the past ten years. I felt real apprehension that horror was taking yet another bold ignorant step in the wrong direction; was there really no classic movie that Hollywood would keep their filthy-rich grubby hands off and leave in pristine nostalgic peace? Because of this, I deliberately avoided ALL of the leading announcements made within the next six months, like a child stomping their feet in rebellious defiance. But then, King himself began to show approval of what he had seen of the movie, expressing great delight at how the film would be more of an honest representation of his book and putting fans at ease that it was all in safe hands. I made the conscious move to re-watch IT [1990], but as if under a magnifying glass, and in this new bright garish light, I could see the cracks and flaws within the idealistic portrait I had painted in my memory. Perhaps IT actually was out-dated and tired, in dire need of a polish. With my new-found intrigue, I dared to investigate further into 2017. Initially, I was angry at how unique and different everything felt; suddenly we are swept back to the 80s, a confusing choice when both the book and TV movie were based solidly within the 50s, and I grew concerned that this was going to be trying too hard to be hip – after all, the 80s have never been so cool with the likes of Stranger Things and Black Mirror. Seeing the new cast for the children, I longed for the characters I had grown up with; we were like old friends, The Loser’s Club and I, but I reserved all further judgement for when I would view the film in its entirety. And this is what I discovered.

The movie centres on what it calls Chapter One. This focuses on the children’s journey in a linear form, abandoning all flashback sequences that the book and 90s narrative adhere to. It looks fantastic, even the title sequence had me spellbound, and the cinema was packed, with every seat filled – the biggest turn out I have seen for a horror movies in years. We start humbly where we would expect to – in the bedroom of a sickly stuttering Bill, Georgie expectantly awaiting his infamous floating paper boat to set sail. This comforting familiarity resonates well, throwing some respectful acknowledgement to the 90s, valuing where this story had been long before. That said, it is a mere fleeting moment before we realise we could have abandoned all imagination at the door – Georgie’s arm is ripped from its socket in blood-spurting glory, brandishing those new effects like a chainsaw-wielding madman. Immediately, it is obvious that this will not be a subtle affair.

It is from here that the narrative bounds and leaps into a wholly new direction, cleverly focusing on sections of the book that the 90s either failed to recognise, or weren’t technically advanced enough to incorporate. Instead of being disrespectful, this move is essentially a smart one; you could watch both movies back to back and barely realise that they exist in the same universe. Muscheitti is polite enough to acknowledge that the other does exist, [he even includes a doll of the Tim Curry version of Pennywise in one of his scenes] without stepping on Wallace’s toes. With this innovative solitary focus on the children, the movie takes on all the elements of a children’s fantasy movie, from the epic orchestral music and ambitious cinematography, to the banter and repartee between the characters, it explores a new realm of horror, sweeping us away with the adventure of it all. The effects are frequent and bludgeoning, but in their right, are flawless; there just isn’t a moment that doesn’t look real.

IT itself, in clown form, bears little or almost no resemblance to the Tim Curry Pennywise, aside from perhaps the enlarged forehead. It was always said that Curry’s Pennywise was never a true representation of King’s imagination. Aesthetically, Skarsgård looks fantastic; realistic, terrifying, the true embodiment of a child’s nightmarish manifestation. For me as an adult, it is the simplicity of the 90s Pennywise that is far more disconcerting, of which Curry requested himself, so he could still act freely through the make-up. Reportedly, the cast would actively avoid Curry between takes throughout filming, as his appearance was so distressing. Muscheitti took note of this, and was said to intentionally keep Skarsgård’s appearance unknown to the cast, away from all the other actors, so that their first encounter would be the first scene that we see on screen – and this had great affect. The children were genuinely frightened, and even Skarsgård himself doubted whether he would return as Pennywise in Chapter Two, after suffering such severe nightmares during filming. Skarsgård also had his own input on the direction of Pennywise. He wanted there to be a more simple, childlike quality to the character, since the clown is fundamentally a figment of the children’s imagination, and it needed to represent their immature consciousness. Whilst Curry’s character feels more playful, comical and taunting, Skarsgård plays a more serious role with a notable speech impediment, reminding me of the Freddy evolution from Englund to Haley in 2010.

The movie twists and turns exquisitely, sweeping you through the adventure from one sequence to the next, keeping you gripped throughout. Unlike the book, there are no punctuating scenes of any adults in this chapter; it is all perceived through the eyes of the child. The friendship and bond between the unlikely comrades still resonates with the viewer, but uses different, perhaps less uplifting moments from the book. The dam building scene from the 90s is replaced by the bathroom cleaning scene from the book, when the friends come to Beverly’s aid and mop away the blood that has erupted from the sink. There is also an addition of a strong comedic element that gives the film a whole new level of entertainment. The characters taunt one another frequently, offering a more jovial realistic representation of friendship, but overall, less of an affectionate connection. New additions of controversial subjects have also been added giving us deeper insight into the characters, with stronger hints that Beverly is a victim of molestation by her father, and Henry Bowers [who bears such a striking resemblance to his past counterpart] kills his father with a Stanley knife to the throat. Thankfully, any sex scenes from the book have still tastefully been avoided.

The beauty of King’s perception in his writing is he exploits what scares us the most. As children and as adults, he explores our subterranean animalistic thoughts that haunt us all within ourselves. Muscheitti has neglected to take advantage of the character’s own personal fears. This movie just did not scare me. There are many jump scares to keep the untrained horror viewer on their toes, but too many action sequences water down the non-existent tension. That said, the ride is fast-paced, adrenaline-charged and aesthetically exhilarating, but is it scary? Sadly, the answer is no.

The positive news is that Chapter Two can be nothing short of an improvement. Even Wallace himself would admit they ran short of time, the effects just weren’t accessible to successfully portray the complexity that King had created. The adult actors cast were severely lacking in comparison to their child counterparts, and I do hope that the adults in Chapter Two won’t befall the same fate – I almost want them to wait for the child actors to age 27 years before they shoot the next one! This film has managed to alter my perception of remakes entirely, showing me that a lot can change over 17 years and a face lift can be a positive move for a piece of work. Both movies can exist in the same realm and each are brilliant in their own right.

IT [2017] has truly altered the face of horror for the future, and I will no longer shudder at the mention of the word “remake.”