Ahhh summer vacation. That time when you hit the local watering hole for a swim, take in a bike ride with your buds through the woods, or catch an insane slideshow in your friends garage. If this sounds like your childhood in the ’80s, you’re not alone. It was mine too. Growing up in the ’80s was a very tense time for a young impressionable mind. The Cold War was in play, Jr High was in full effect, bullies ran rampant, and don’t forget that first kiss! But it wasn’t as scary as you might think.
No, what was scary back then – and sadly still is to this day – were my living nightmares. One, pea soup. It should never have been invented. Two, closets with the light turned on and the door shut. What kind of sick joke is that? And third, and probably most terrifying, were red balloons. Why these three things specifically? Because in the ’80s, three epic pieces of entertainment shook the fabric of my innermost child more than anything else: “The Exorcist“, “Poltergeist“, and that crazy German lady who loved the number 99. OK, it wasn’t the German lady, no, it was the first night of the TV mini-series “IT“, based on Stephen King’s brilliant novel of over 1100 pages.
For those not familiar with this story, “IT” focuses on the town of Derry, Maine, which for some reason has a dark curse over it. So much so, in fact, that every 27 years this darkness manifests itself into physical form to eat on none other than, you guessed it, fear itself. Each cycle more devastating than the next, the town slowly dies, piece-by-piece, until a band of lovable losers decide to band together and get to the bottom of what in the gray water is going on here. “IT” is a terrifying tale, rich with characters and situations true to childhood fears in any decade, and featured one of the most sinister antagonists in literature presented as Pennywise..
And then my adult nightmares came true. Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman adapted “IT” for the big screen, and bringing “IT” to life is director Andy Muschietti. Now you might be asking yourself, “who are these people”, and the answer is, “good question, beats me.” As an avid Stephen King fan, I was nervous that this version of the scary as hell itself, Pennywise the Clown, would be a dud out of the gate with a bunch of unknowns (to me) working on it. Add in that, Gary Dauberman wrote another recent horror flick “Annabelle: Creation” and its predecessor “Annabelle“, which were not the greatest of movies. Hence the nightmare that yet another King adaptation was doomed to fail, as once again the suits behind-the-scenes failed to assign talent that understood the deeply thematic source material of the original novel.
Nothings proves you more wrong that seeing a grown man throw his popcorn bucket in the air because he jumped 5 feet out of his chair. Yea, that was me. And that was the moment I knew this movie was going to be the silver bullet this story deserved!
All I can say is that book lovers will get a kick out of all the things that made it into the movie, and those new to the story will be blown away by the pure creep factor you get from every angle of this film, not just Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Trust me, though, his rhythm is super creepy. For the book readers, just know that this movie thankfully holds no orgies and has our hero in a LEGO shell, turtle power! And let’s not forget how much I ❤️ Derry. For the uninitiated, the Losers Club and the story itself is setup well and easy to follow. Concepts introduced in the start of the film make their way fluidly into the final act as we hangout with these kids on their insane summer vacation.
Speaking of the “kids”, the old guard of Hollywood needs to watch out because on the heels of “Stranger Things“, this group of lovable losers steals the show. And it should since Finn Wolfhard (Mike in “Stranger Things”) takes “Richie from the Ditchie” to a place that was literally right off the page. Jaeden Lieberher, who plays the stuttering bi bi bi Bill, really grasps the role as the leader of the Losers Club. Jeremy Ray Taylor just adds a giant heart of warmth to Ben, our closet nerd/historian, oh, and New Kid On The Block. And much like everyone of these boys, the entire theater fell in love with Beverly Marsh, aka “Bevy from the Levy”, played by Sophia Lillis. Bravo!
Overall the adults were as creepy on the screen as they were in the book. Nicholas Hamilton who plays Henry Bowers was on point. And Bill Skarsgård’s reinvented version of Pennywise, one of the most iconic villains of the ’80s, was eerie enough to not make me wish it was Tim Curry the whole movie. Skarsgård truly brought the creep factor to life in Pennywise, although the opening scene went on a little to long in my opinion, and came dangerously close to angering me with his portrayal. But once the visual effects were applied and his ability to move gracefully fully realized, Pennywise was lockstep beside the 1980’s version.
If I had to identify a specific concern, there are a few moments where the pacing needed a little finesse, as these scenes were a bit drug out. Thankfully, the soundtrack swooped in to save the day. From the hard ROCK choices (don’t worry, you’ll get the lameness of that pun later), to the softer songs as they ponder how to go on, it was just a massive throwback to the ’80s that should grab most viewer’s hearts.
As I want you to see this film fresh, that is all I will say about this stellar adaptation of an even better Stephen King novel. So, if you are scared of creepy clowns, if you are scared of red balloons, the only way to overcome those fears is to face them head on and get to the theater to see “IT” before it disappears into the vault for 27 more years. For those that are too chicken to face their fears, much like Georgie’s paper boat, YOU’LL FLOAT TOO!
Starring Bill Skarsgård, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis
Written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman
Directed by Andy Muschietti