The Last Jedi is a Messy Masterpiece
It is a cinematic rarity: a remake that actually makes sense. The original It is specifically the sort of movie that deserves a second go, insofar as it made a genuine, lasting impact during it’s release, in spite of the fact that it‘s really not very good. In fact, the original isn’t even really a “film”, it was a televised miniseries following a group of characters, both as children in the fifties and adults in the eighties. It’s a testament to the story’s central villain (one of the most iconic scary clowns in a genre full of them), Tim Curry’s portrayal, and the strength of the original work by Stephen King, that it’s had the shelf life It‘s had. But most people have forgotten how bland, melodramatic, and (in the case of the non-clown adult characters) poorly acted the original series was.
So a theatrical update, specifically one that eschews the original story’s nonlinear, flashback-based narrative, in favor of a straight story about kids fighting a demon clown, was a sensible move. In fact, the only reason I can think of for why it took so long for the story to make the jump to the big screen was so they could release it exactly 27 years after the original miniseries, in keeping with an element of the story’s lore. It is missing the campy, low-budget fun of the original miniseries, but it more than makes up for it with a fast, visceral monster flick.
As before, we are introduced to the Loser’s Club, a group of boys living in the town of Derry, Maine (where else). Derry, as it turns out, is not a great place to be a loser. Although it’s far from the only 80’s American town to feature genuinely sociopathic bullies and a support structure of generally apathetic (or worse) adults, there’s something especially wrong about Derry, as evidenced by the fact that children here seem to go mysteriously missing at an alarming rate. One of these children is Georgie Denbrough (the talented Jackson Robert Scott), an innocent and excitable young boy who fails every Darwin test in the book when he tries to make friends with a fanged harlequin who lives in the sewer.
Greif-stricken, his older brother Bill resolves to solve the mystery with the help of his friends, who grow to include an overweight romantic named Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), an African-American orphan named Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and a twelve-year old girl named Beverly (Sophia Lillis), the last of whom seems to make the rest of the group almost as nervous as the villain does. All are joined by the fact that they are frequently set upon by the most nightmarish monster in a town full of them; an enigmatic, demonic clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), whose mystery they band together to unravel.
As I said before, It is a successful effort. It manages to tell a functioning coming-of-age story that also offers fast-paced terror. The child actors are more than game for the task, the best among them being Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard as Ritchie Tozer (a role originally played by a young Seth Green) and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie, the team’s resident hypochondriac. These two get some of the best lines in the movie.
But, of course, the scene stealer is Bill Skarsgard as the clown. Pennywise is not the shark from Jaws; you see him, and you see him a lot, although seldom when you’re not expecting him. At some points, he begins to suffer from a bit of overexposure, nary a ten minutes goes by where he does not pop out, very often in a jump scare. Very little is left to the imagination, particularly in an early scene with Georgie. What would once be the business of a dissolved cut away is now displayed in gory detail.
But the movie knows what It’s audience wants; they want to see the scary clown, and Skarsgard delivers. He’s less openly joyful than Curry’s portrayal, more obviously an eldritch horror whose chosen the form of a clown because that was the only thing scarier, and Skarsgard brings It to manic, sadistic life.
As horror movies go, It is clearly something of a popcorn blockbuster. It doesn’t stick with you for long after It‘s over (I was not checking my closet for clowns after I saw the movie–I kicked that habit at age 17), and a large amount of It’s horror is derived from jump scares. But it’s hard to call them “cheap” when they’re delivered via a monster that’s this expertly created, inspired, and acted. It is a fun, frightening feature, and I look forward to the inevitable sequel. Feel free to check It out.