It Chapter One (2017) Movie Review - Pennywise is Back!

Horror | 135 Min
It Chapter One (2017) Review
  • Director: Andy Muschietti
  • Actors: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard
  • Writers: Chase Palmer, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman, Stephen King
  • Producers: Dan Lin
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English, Hebrew
  • Parental: Violence, Language, Gore, Violence To Animals, Violence To Children, Peril, Self Harm
  • Horror | 135 Min

In the summer of 1989 a group of bullied kids band together to destroy a shape-shifting monster which disguises itself as a clown and preys on the children of Derry their small Maine town.

Welcome to Knockout Horror. For day 6 of our KOween 31 days of Halloween feature we are taking a look at the multi award winning 2017 feature length version of Stephen King’s It. A full length movie version of the beloved 90s miniseries was always going to be a tall task. The question is, did it succeed? We take a look.

We are reviewing a horror movie a day for the entirety of October 2022 leading up to Halloween. These reviews will be shorter and more straight to the point than my standard format. We will feature a range of movies from horror classics to international hits and a few indie darlings. You can check out the entire KO-Ween feature by clicking right here.

Stephen King’s It

It Chapter One follows the story of a group of adolescent friends and their experiences with a local entity known simply as It. Set in the late 80s, Bill, played by Jaeden Martell, is ill and stuck indoors. The small town of Derry, Maine, is caught in the middle of a rain storm.  Bill’s brother, Georgie, wants to go out and play so Bill makes him a paper sailboat.

Georgie takes his sailboat and sails it along the gutters of the streets by his home. The sailboat, caught in the flow of water from the rain, sails down a storm drain and out of reach. Looking into the drain, Georgie spots a clown. The clown introduces himself as Pennywise The Dancing Clown. Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgård, says he can give Georgie his boat back; he just has to reach in and get it. When Georgie reaches in, Pennywise rips off his arm.

Back in the Summer of 89

A year later, Bill is still troubled by Georgie’s disappearance. He believes that Georgie may still be alive and held captive somewhere. Bill believes Georgie may have been washed up in a wasteland, at the end of a sewer, called the Barrens. Bill and his friends take a trip to the Barrens in the hope they can find a clue about Georgie’s disappearance. While there, they discover the shoe of a missing girl in the sewer.

Pennywise from It Chapter One (2017)

One of the more genuinely unsettling scenes in modern horror.

Upon researching further, it becomes apparent that Derry has a history of missing children going back centuries. Believing the events to be linked, the group, now expanded with the addition of local kids Beverly and Mike, decide to investigate. They have all recently seen manifestations of a horrifying clown that targets their inner most fears. Believing the clown and the disappearances may be linked, they begin to seek out the hiding place of Pennywise The Dancing Clown.

A Tall Task

Directed by Andy Muschietti, “It” faced the unenviable task of bringing the popular Stephen King story to the big screen. A TV adaptation from the early 90s, featuring Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown, was adored by many horror fans. Before It was even fully in development people were casting scorn. The thought that someone else could play Pennywise was sacrilege. Tim Curry was, and always would be, Pennywise to many fans of horror.

With that in mind, what Andy Muschietti managed to achieve with It Chapter One was quite remarkable. Critical reception to the movie was excellent and a whole new generation of Stephen King fans were created. I believe much of this starts with changing the setting from the 1960s to the 1980s. This was a fantastic move, in my opinion, and helped distance the movie from the 90s miniseries.

A New Pennywise

Another important move was the casting of Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise the clown. Replacing Tim Curry was always going to be a nigh on impossible task. The only real way to do it was to go in a completely different direction. Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise is a much more animalistic villain and far more intimidating than Tim Curry’s.

Pennywise from It Chapter One (2017)

Bill Skarsgård is fantastic as Pennywise The Dancing Clown.

Looking like the result of a disgusting and smelly motel 6 rendezvous between Bette Midler and Carrot Top. Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise is truly horrible to look at. Pennywise is no longer making constant wise cracks in a thick Bronx accent. He is now other worldly, physically terrifying, and singularly driven by his desire to take children.

Closer To The Original Vision

The Pennywise we see here is far closer to Stephen King’s vision from the original novel. The outfit is the same, his motivations are the same, and he has the ability to both entice, and terrify, kids depending on his intentions. Much of this is helped by Bill Skarsgård’s incredible physical performance. Bill spent time working with contortionists to add a sense of unnatural, non-human, movement to the character. Standing over 6′ 3″ while being rather slender added yet another element of intimidation to the appearance of Pennywise.

Bill Skarsgård has the uncanny ability to move one of his eyes independently of the other. Caused by a lazy eye as a child, this is yet another way he manages to scare as Pennywise. The use of prosthetic teeth added to the general creepiness. The teeth also caused Bill to drool profusely which is used to great effect to make Pennywise look even more demented and animal like. All in all it is a fantastic all round performance and Pennywise is, once again, one of the scariest horror villains ever.

The Losers Club

The 1990 It miniseries featured a likeable cast of young actors playing the Losers Club. All of the performances were great and a number of the actors went on to bigger things. The late Jonathan Brandis played Bill, a young Seth Green played Richie, and Emily Perkins was Beverly Marsh. All went on to great careers though, sadly, Jonathan Brandis took his own life at a relatively young age. Just as it was with casting a new Pennywise, it would be a difficult task to put together an equally likeable child cast for the big screen version of It.

I always felt as though the first chapter of It is the strongest. The experiences of the children are far more interesting and, generally, scarier than what the adults experience. The sense of camaraderie in the midst of a lazy summer holiday is something most people can relate to from their school days. The child cast of Andy Muschietti’s It are just as good as they were in the 90’s miniseries.

I would go as far as to say the characters here have more depth than in the miniseries. Beverly’s, played by Sophia Lillis, story in particular is expanded on and given more depth. Sophia Lillis does a great job with the character and her story feels far more developed here. Jaeden Martell, as Bill, is excellent. Jonathan Brandis, in this role, was hard to replace but Jaeden does a really good job. Stanley, played by Wyatt Oleff, is expanded on here a bit more than in the miniseries which I think is a good thing. He feels like far less of an afterthought. There really isn’t a particularly weak performance.

Not Perfect

It Chapter One isn’t perfect, however. The opening scenes are suitably terrifying but, when it comes to scares, the movie falls into a somewhat formulaic pattern. We meet a child, they are scared by Pennywise in an almost set piece manner, rinse and repeat. The way this plays out is so by the numbers that it can impact the scariness of the movie somewhat.

The Losers Club from It Chapter One (2017)

The Losers Club are just as good as in the 90s miniseries.

It has something of a fairground horror house feeling to it that is hard to explain. The scenes of Pennywise meeting each kid for the first time are always fun but they are also predictable. The movie has a tendency to fall into cliched tropes at times as well. You have seen these types of horror scenes many times before. They are still impactful, however, as Pennywise is an excellent antagonist. Predictability is something of an issue here. The way the movie is paced lends a feeling of familiarity and “horror by the numbers” to everything.

Is Pennywise Funny to You?

Something else that may put viewers off is It’s reliance on comedy. Although genuinely funny in parts, some of the kid’s wisecracking comes at the expense of the horror. There are times when the kids should be shitting themselves but, instead, are cracking jokes. Surely Pennywise is nothing other than terrifying? Why are so many of the kid’s reactions laced with humour?

A common problem with modern horror is the overreliance on CG. It Chapter One is no different and it makes no sense. Bill Skarsgård puts on a powerful physical performance that would have been all the better without the copious amounts of CG. Let him create the scares and ground the movie in reality. There is no real need for any CG at all here.

Still A Fantastic Movie

All of those complaints aside, It Chapter One is still a fantastic movie. None of the issues should impact too much on your enjoyment. The cast is great, Pennywise is brilliant and suitably terrifying, and the pacing is good enough to keep you interested. The camaraderie of the losers club is endearing and, despite the subject matter, the movie can be genuinely charming at times.

It Chapter One is very different from the miniseries version but manages to hold up on its own. Fans of Stephen King and fans of horror in general should definitely check it out. It’s just a shame that It Chapter Two didn’t manage to live up to the quality. Letting the series down, as a whole.

Should You Watch It Chapter One?

It Chapter One is a fantastic movie adaptation of a beloved book and TV miniseries and is definitely worth a watch. Bill Skarsgård puts on a masterful, and terrifying, performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown and a brilliant cast of kids keep you invested in the story.

Cinematography is excellent. It features a number of creepy locations and is extremely well filmed throughout. A long runtime is balanced by a well paced plot. Both funny and scary in parts, It Chapter One is a fairly feel good movie featuring a tale of camaraderie and overcoming fear.

It Chapter One does have a somewhat formulaic feeling to its scares. Some inappropriately timed wise cracks from the kids can have you wondering whether you are watching a comedy horror at times. There is a fairground haunted house feeling to the scares and the story can be predictable at times. An overreliance on CG also undermines an incredible physical performance from Bill Skarsgård.

With all this being said, It is still an enjoyable movie that is definitely worth a watch for both horror fans and fans of Stephen King. A worthy big screen adaptation and a great popcorn horror in its own right.

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