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It (2017) – Film Review

“It” wasn’t supposed to garner the biggest September box office opening of all time. “It” had been in development turmoil for awhile, swapping directors, dropping Will Coulter as the actor to play Pennywise, and generally being bogged down by a bad streak of Stephen King movies. The Dark Tower was a disaster both financially and critically. But despite all of the doubts, the team behind “It” moved past it through great casting, a distinct visual palette, and a star turn from Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

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Finn Wolfhard, the main character from Netflix’s Stranger Things, plays the wise-cracking Richie in “It”, a change in tone from his earnest TV persona. He swears and brags about sex he’s never had. He brings a great comedic lightness to the movie, an important glue character that ties the group of troubled kids together.

Bill, played by Jaeden Lieberher, is the stuttering older brother of Georgie, the infamous victim of Pennywise’s sewer tricks. He has an emotional arc surrounding his brother that’s very intense and heartfelt. It’s made all the better by the filmmakers choosing to focus only on the characters as children, not flashing back and forth between their adult years. That will be the sequel, apparently.

Sophia Lillis plays Beverly, the tomboy girl with both an undeserved reputation at school and a hostile relationship with her heated father. She’s looking for someone to latch onto, and the losers, the main group of kids that hangout together, including Bill and Richie, a sympathetic fat boy and a home-schooled outsider, are the first she finds. She is more mature and even looks three years older than all of them. She fits in within their little squad very quickly.

Pennywise isn’t just a scary killer clown; he’s a monster capable of transporting and morphing into different entities. His mouth can shape-shift into a long, wide black hole filled with a hundred spears of teeth. But the natural physical gestures performed by Bill Skarsgard are plenty creepy enough.

An “It” producer said in a press interview that they consciously created a strategy to keep Skarsgard out of the late night circuits and press junket interviews. By doing this, the producer explained, the viewer would see Pennywise the monster first and Skarsgard the actor second. His piercing eyes and odd lip movements are huge aspects of the performance, and his real-life interviews don’t mask these intense features/expressions that landed him the role in the first place. If his face were all over magazine covers, the mystique of the Pennywise look wouldn’t be as immediate or as thrilling. Viewers would look at the clown and be able to point out the quirky gestures of the Swedish actor.

Bill Skarsgard made some sort of comment comparing his performance as Pennywise to Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight. I don’t know the context of his actual statement, but if he was saying that he had taken inspiration from Ledger’s Joker, it’s very apparent within the film. He shakes his head and laughs hoarsely at the kids, mimicking their state of absolute terror in the same way Ledger laughed as he was beat down by Batman while being interrogated. The reckless, unfiltered joy in the chaos and violence. They share a lot of common qualities in their performances, though Ledger’s makeup was dried and peeling and Pennywise’s face has been intricately painted and adjusted with CGI effects.

The new Stephen King adaption is a definite success on a long checklist of big-screen failures. “It” is a classic, well-known story with a tantalizingly creepy, enduring villain. If you’re worried about “It 2: The Adults”, be reassured that Pennywise will return and be as welcome as he has been in 2017. He’s a timeless character that will always hold some sort of grasp on audience’s fears.

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Carrie (1976)

9/10

Carrie is another Stephen King adaption that is above par, thanks to psychologically tense directing from Brian DePalma, and Sissy Spacek’s tender performance as the subjected teenage girl. Carrie’s mother is a radical religious type who indoctrinates Carrie with vows of righteousness and conduct: She is devoid of all understanding of what happens to a teenager and instead has to focus on what teenagers ought not do; her lack of a normal life causes her to be ridiculed and made fun of by the girls at  school, and even the one’s who defend her do it behind her back and in small groups; In the end, she has no reason to  spare anyone. Carrie has special, supernatural powers of telekinesis and pyromania. What could these girls do to her to cause her to express the full capability of her powers?

The most intriguing thing I think about, that is never shown, is the mothers reaction to murder: Out of hate of boys and lack of prayer, what terrible quotes could be expressed by her about murder? Or was her life the same as her daughters? I feel the high-school depiction is more nuanced in that era, and the Protestant existence of the mother more accepted and common in her time. But if she doesn’t condemn murder, why do we see the girls who stand up for Carrie? Essentialy, is there any point besides gentle optimism when we are shown these scenes? The ugliness is so the director can over-compose the reaction and conclusion, and it is; the movie is a stylistic treat, a classic that is appreciated even by non-horror fans, and a brooding look at innocence and evil, a common theme that lives in the world of horror movies; The Exorcist being one, and probably the most pivotal.

The film takes domestic and teenage problems and turns them into a study of dynamics. When we see Carrie  getting a date for prom, it is a moment of a hesitant yet great joy, and we hope what she achieves through it is a must-needed sense of rebellion with her mother, which she shows as she sticks up for her right to go to the dance in the first place; but, as the conclusion comes into realization, we have a gut feeling of the emotional wreckage and consequence that will be inescapable: The gym-coach who feels sorrow for Carrie, the boy who seemed to be taking Carrie to the prom with good means, all thrown into nothingness with one outrageous prank, and at the peak of her happiness. An intelligent, kinetic film with much needed doll-like quality from Sissy Spacek that will surely endure as a classic.