Surely two whole years, almost to the day, haven’t passed since I sat down in the multiplex to watch a remake of Stephen King’s It. A movie that I felt, during its build-up, was needless and unnecessary (yes, I muttered those words) because I have a real soft spot for the original three-hour adaptation with Tim Curry in the role of Pennywise, the dancing clown? Two years since I slithered down from that dubious and high handed moral high ground, and recanted, having enjoyed the movie not only more that I expected to, but more than I wanted to?
Time flies, and here we are, two years later in what seems to be a full blown resurgence of interest in King’s work. This year alone, other than It: Chapter 2, we’ve seen a lacklustre retread of Pet Sematary that literally added nothing to the original and we have a film adaptation of King’s Shining sequel Doctor Sleep upcoming. Not only that, at the time of writing this, I’m engrossed in the Castle Rock TV series on DVD and there’s a new King novel, The Institute due to be published next week.
But to get back to the point of the review, It (2017) was only ever half the story, and now it’s time for the conclusion. For those who have no clue what It is, you haven’t read the book, seen the miniseries from the nineties or seen the first chapter, here’s a very quick synopsis;
In the town of Derry, Maine – an evil supernatural force personified as Pennywise the clown turns up every 27 years to claim lives. A group of kids defeated the evil back in the eighties, but have to be prepared to fight again as adults 27 years later. There. Pretty much spoiler free.
The film picks up twenty-seven years later, the miscreants of Derry are still unknowingly being influenced by the evil that is Pennywise, and the death toll begins to rise with a particularly nasty scene of a hate crime as the film opens – a scene that wasn’t in the book, as I recall.
In fact, there are several new scenes in the film that weren’t in the book, just as there are key scenes in the book that have been omitted in the film, others are played differently and a few characters and a sub plot are missing. But much as I loved the book, which I read on its first paperback publication in 1986, I can let those details go and just be swept along for the ride. I’d go as far as to say that the heavily diluted television adaptation is closer to the book in many respects (or at least as I remember the book, it’s been more than three decades since I read it.)
Ultimately, the film stands or falls on its casting, because you have younger and older versions of the same characters. The child actors are already established, and the casting of the adult actors here is a coup of genius. We can literally see how those kids would grown into those adults. It’s perfect. The interplay between the adults is also warm, funny and – just perfect.
Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise though steals the show without a doubt. He performance as the leering, menacing embodiment of evil has absolutely usurped my notion that nobody but Tim Curry should ever play the clown. Skarsgard absolutely nails it here and consolidates Pennywise as one of the greatest horror movie monsters of all time.
The film’s running time is just short of three hours, but I found that the performances all around are so strong that the audience becomes totally invested in the characters so you’re not aware of the passage of time. The film never lets up and never becomes a trudge. It’s punctuated with humour throughout, which counterbalances the horror effectively – plus there’s a great cameo from King himself, and a sly reference to a scene in John Carpenter’s The Thing to add to the fun.
I was lucky enough to have caught It Chapter 2 on a “one night only” double bill with the first film, and I think that viewing was a better experience than it would’ve been had I just gone in to see Chapter 2 as a standalone. Don’t misread this – Chapter 2 will work perfectly well as a standalone, but seeing both films back to back was a truly immersive five hour plus experience that few films could carry off.
This is literally the Lord of the Rings equivalent in horror. It’s an epic journey with both movies making one menacing marathon. Like King’s novel, it is a high watermark masterwork, but not for the squeamish.
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