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It (2017) Review: Pennywise returns in solid remake

The new incarnation of Stephen King’s famous novel, is perhaps one of the most greatly hyped movies of 2017. The first trailer broke records when it was released back in March, being viewed 197 million times in only 24 hours. Since then the intrigue has only grown. Most remember the 1990 mini-series fondly but looking back it doesn’t hold up too well. Therefore 2017’s It is one of a rare breed: the worthwhile reboot.

Unlike the book, which takes place in the late 50s originally, this movie takes place in the late 1980’s. This is clearly so Chapter II can transition to present day, much like the novel flitted forward 27 years to 1984. The setting also means It riffs on the same nostalgia that Stranger Things plays on so well. From the theatre playing Batman and Lethal Weapon 2, to the spooky house at the end of the road, Andy Muschietti’s movie is soaked in it.

The movie focuses on the Losers’ Club, a group of young teenagers who are constantly on the run from the school bullies. A year after the disappearance of leader Bill’s (Jaeden Lieberher) younger brother Georgie, unsettling sightings and even more disappearances bring the Losers together and convince them something sinister is afoot. That something sinister happens to be the mysterious It.

With there being seven leads the biggest fear is that they will become indistinguishable. Thankfully, each character is fleshed out enough for this never to become a problem. Sophia Lillis’ Bev is abused at home and mocked at school, and finds solace in the friendship of the Losers. Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is the New Kid, whilst Richie (Finn Wolfhard) is the joker and loudmouth. The gang is rounded out by hypochondriac Eddie, Stan and Mike. Like great coming-of-age movies from the past, each character has their moment. That their camaraderie is so strong is in part due to a tight script, but also definitely down to some solid acting from the young leads.

What such a stellar young cast deserved was an equally brilliant adversary and thankfully they got it in Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise the Clown. The design of the interdimensional evil is certainly unsettling and an unrecognisable Skarsgård does a great job with the physicality of the role, knocking it out of the park. His Pennywise is downright disturbing.

He is however let down by the one major flaw in the film. Perhaps surprisingly (perhaps not), Pennywise is let down by overexposure. The clown is scary, but he is in the shadows far too little. From the opening scene we get to see too much of Pennywise, much too quickly. And as the movie goes on, he appears time and time again. It’s certainly understandable why the director chose to do this, given the whole arc of the movie and the characters, but it can’t help but become somewhat repetitive. This overexposure is one of the major factors too in why the finale cannot help but feel a little underwhelming. Plus it doesn’t bode well for Chapter II, and so they will need to work extra hard to make sure the sequel is not merely ‘more of the same’.

Overall, the movie itself balances the plot well. The book is a 1000 page doorstep and so splitting it up into two movies absolutely makes sense. The meeting of the intertwining strands of the plot feels natural, and the main characters have some good chemistry. As mentioned there’s also great acting across the board, with not a weak link in sight. The sneak peek into the creepy history of their hometown Derry is done well but would’ve benefitted from more time dedicated to it. Instead we get a few too many repeat scares, with the Losers being spooked by Pennywise alone and then together once too often.

Those unfamiliar with the source material may come in expecting a flat out horror but It never really gets there. Instead it lurks somewhere between making Pennywise a real horrifying threat and making it all just a metaphor. After all the story is ultimately about a group of teenagers coming face to face with their own personal demons and understanding how to take them on.

So, It may not be as terrifying in the traditional sense as some would hope, but it’s strong acting and great chemistry add up to an enjoyable theatre visit.

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