Alexandra Howard's Take

I rarely review films – I'm more of a dissect and theorise kinda kid, unless I feel its worth it, which trust me, IT is.

I'm sure you've heard the story, a group of kids are terrorised by a supernatural being that reflects their deepest fears, and often appears as a terrifying clown set on devouring the young before going back into hibernation for 27 years. Having only seen the Tim Curry incarnation of the story, and not yet read the book, I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought maybe it would only work as the campy and often silly film that became a cult favourite. Oh boy, was I wrong.

Let me first talk about the scares. I love horror with a passion, but I could probably only name a handful of films which have actually scared or unsettled me, and IT has been welcomed into that small group. Even if clowns don't scare you, there's guaranteed to be something else within the film that will, creepy paintings, lepers, headless creatures, its got it all. But it doesn't feel like overkill, as there's an overarching sense of dread throughout the entire film thanks to the tense score. You're never given a chance to relax, much like the kids of The Losers Club.

The Losers Club are ironically the coolest kids, each of them key to the story. There isn't one that feels shoehorned in or stands out, they're all weird in their own special way. Finn Wolfhard (what a name) is the most familiar face, taking a main role in Netflix's Stranger Things, and he provides much needed comic relief with a crude humour typical of a pre-teen. Wyatt Oleff and Jack Dylan Grazer, who play Stanley and Eddie, are the hilariously straight-laced kids who really don't know what they're getting into, and Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben) and Chosen Jacobs (Mike) are the ones who are bullied for their weight, race, and just their presence in the town of Derry. Main star Jaeden Lieberher (Bill), already has a fair few roles under his belt, but I would love to see him in more as he grows up – I got major Tom Hanks vibes from him. Beverly Marsh, who is played wonderfully by young Sissy Spacek lookalike Sophia Lillis, transcends the "token girl" trope - her gender doesn't inhibit her character in any way. Yeah, all the boys have a crush on her, but the use of the male gaze upon this young woman only becomes predatory at vital moments in the film.

The actor everyone was watching out for however was Bill Skarsgård, who certainly had some big clown shoes to fill by taking a role done previously by the inimitable Tim Curry. But that was the thing, he didn't try to copy Curry, this was a new incarnation of Pennywise, and a bloody terrifying one at that. The amount of physical acting that went into Skarsgård's portrayal of the dancing clown was impressive in itself, always moving with an uncanny fluidity, or twitching as if there was an even more terrifying monster inside of him attempting to get out. I really do think this will launch Skarsgård's career in the US as a "serious actor", and I hope he does well. I think he is capable of much better things than his previous work (YA vampire series Hemlock Grove), and IT is a testament to that.

Whilst set in the late 1980s, there's no nostalgia porn, which something like this could have easily fallen victim to. There's a great balance of references (shout out to New Kids On The Block), but the film could easily translate into the modern day. However, one thing that bugged me a little (and is my only gripe with the film) was how easily The Losers Club understood the mythology of Pennywise. Some books in the library point towards something weird happening every 27 years, and suddenly they just know and accept that it's a supernatural being which transforms into other scary monsters – rather than first assuming it's some weirdo dude who dresses as a clown and abducts kids (a la John Wayne Gacy). I do think this is down to the already extended runtime, any more explaining of the mythology behind Derry and its curse would be a little excessive.

All in all, I do think this is one of the best horrors of the year (along with Get Out), in that it exceeded my expectations, and for once brought some feeling to my cold, desensitised heart.

Micky Ralph's Take

Real talk; I wanted so very badly for this film to be excellent. I held my breath as the lights dimmed in the cinema, clutched my beer to my chest and prayed blindly to any omnipotent beings listening in for the film to be even halfway decent.

Someone must have heard me because this film was fantastic. But, everyone's asking the same questions so I'm here to give you my honest answers.

Does it capture the feeling of the book? Absolutely yes. That small-town, Americana, radio wave, rock fight, summertime aesthetic that King captures so beautifully in his books is undoubtedly represented here on screen for us to bask in. Director, Andrés Muschietti, clearly understands the importance of establishing the looming false sense of safety in Derry and slowly jacks apart a wider divide between the adults and children through visual clues and hints rather than relying entirely on dialogue. Stephen King's books are all very 'show don't tell' and this is where Muschietti's directorial style lends itself completely to the accurate telling of this story. It feels like the Derry described in King's book and that's arguably the first and most important step to winning over a deeply anticipating and loyal audience.

Are the characters the same? Yes! The source material isn't just a bunch of writing to use as inspiration. It comes with waves and waves of loyal followers, dissection and analysis, a history of influencing entire generations of people into being terrified of clowns, love and attachment to the characters, poignant messages about the world's cruel realities as well as its fearsome and frightening monsters - this book frightens its readers so harshly and leaves such an impression because of the immense attention to detail and empathy King bleeds into every word. The characters, as well as the setting, are crucial pieces to an honorable adaptation. In Muschietti's film, we fall just as hard and fast for the Loser's Club as we do in the books. Thanks to the casting, writing and direction for not slacking on the little details King is so famous for, we find ourselves inexplicably attached to seven kids within the first half an hour and that is why this film works so well. Then, and only then, we have something to lose, the stakes are higher and more frightening and the filmmakers can truly scare the shit out of us.

So…. Pennywise? Hell yes. Bill Skarsgård's performance is going to be quickly written into history books as one of the most memorable character performances of all time. Right alongside the likes of Heath Ledger's Joker and Michael Keaton's Beetlejuice, we will find Bill Skarsgård's Pennywise. He is the perfect disgusting mixture of funny and frightening. Stephen King spent well over 600 pages describing in great detail all of Pennywise's horrific and terrifying characteristics. Here is a particular favourite of mine:

"Bill could smell Its breath and it was a smell like exploded animals lying on the highway at midnight."

How is anyone able to capture the feelings that descriptions like this make readers feel? Unbelievably, Skarsgård's version of Pennywise encapsulates a very bone-deep impression of the one I imagined in my head when I first read the book; he somehow personifies that almost blurry distinction between dream and nightmare which is exactly what Pennywise is. However departed from reality Skarsgård's Pennywise might seem at first glance, there is no question that the fear he ignites in the guts of viewers is very undeniably real.

But is it scary, though? I think if you're going into this film expecting a fright fest with relentless tension and jump scares, then you're only going to be halfway impressed, and, I believe you'll be missing a wealth of heartwarming life lessons, genuine laughter and meaningful coming-of-age polaroid snaps of beautiful plot. I'm not saying this film isn't scary… because it sure as shit is. What I mean is that if you're watching for a straight up blood and guts horror film, then you're missing the point. With all the advancements and advantages of technology, sociology, psychology and monetary inflation - horror is slowly becoming a race to see who can put the most jump scares into the first thirty seconds of footage and earn the coveted yet largely meaningless title of "most scary". IT takes us back to a more basic set of fears, the wild-eyed belief of childhood, of bad guys and monsters in closets and shadows that are too dark and misshapen.

IT pulls you slowly back from the safety of adulthood of rational thinking of reality and lays menacing traps for your inner child to fall into. It does this by painting the most beautiful and relatable backdrops, it takes its time introducing you to characters and building a reality you can slot a small part of yourself into. Like the kids in this film, the ones that go missing and the ones that survive, you find yourself inexplicably terrified and helpless and totally drawn into the story in ways other horror films simply can't capture. But it's also about loyalty and friendship, about standing up for what is right against all odds and at the risk of your own safety, even your life. Those messages should ring louder than the frightening ones as you walk out of the cinema. The kids work together to overcome their fears, they bravely stand against horror with their hands linked in an impenetrable circle of trust and friendship and love. In the book, after growing up and leaving Derry behind, the character of Ben Hanscom perfectly explains the message of the story, the one thing we all need to take away from the experienced and jaded eye of an adult's perspective.

"I'm scared almost insane by whatever else I may remember before tonight's over, but how scared I am doesn't matter, because it's going to come anyway. It's all there, like a great big bubble that's growing in my mind. But I'm going back, because all I've ever gotten and all I have now is somehow due to what we did then, and you pay for what you get in this world. Maybe that's why God made us kids first and built us close to the ground, because He knows you got to fall down a lot and bleed a lot before you learn that one simple lesson. You pay for what you get, you own what you pay for...and sooner or later whatever you own comes back home to you."

So, was it any good? Absolutely fuck yes.

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