EDITORIAL: “IT” The Biggest R Rated Horror Film; Or How I Stopped Trying To Scare The Audience And Learn To Love The Clown!
By Scott Kurland
Minor spoilers of the film and book. Read at your own risk. I promise this editorial isn’t cursed…as far as you know:
I didn’t get to review “IT.” I wanted to. Initially I began writing my review opening night up until my computer died and I lost everything. Thanks HP!! However, I got to see something special happen during the four weeks my computer was out of commission…I saw “IT” three times (yeah, it’s that good). I also saw this movie break all sorts of records. I mean, it made half a BILLION DOLLARS. Trust me, that’s a lot paper boats. In truth, I've always been terrified of clowns (a fear which is credited to watching the miniseries as a four year old boy). This film actually helped me face and subsequently get over my fears of clowns. Now, in place of a review, I'll instead break down why I think this film did as well as it did when it comes to destroying former box office records.
Child Actors Leading An R Rated Horror Film:
Some people hate the film while others, like myself, LOVE the movie. I’m hearing from people how terrified they were, but honestly, I don’t find the film to be that scary. I actually think it’s a nice nostalgia throwback film...one featuring a homicidal clown. I feel shows such as “Stranger Things” helped people get ready for this film because both projects share a few similarities. Both are set in the 1980's and both showcase the talents of Finn Wolfhard. Wolfhard plays Richie in this version of the film. Richie was always my favorite character in the book, but he elevates the character to an all new level. All the kids are fantastic in the film. Whether it’s the love triangle between Bill, Bev, and Ben, Eddie's hypochondria, or the insanity of the main bully Henry Bowers; these kids can act! The biggest risk that director Andy Muschietti took was not telling the story in the same order as the novel.
The book intertwines the children’s story with their adult counterparts, leading to a wonderful back and forth parallel. Muschietti threw that formula out the window. Filmmakers rarely risk breaking the following two rules: 1) Never work with animals 2) Never work with kids. Muschietti eschews the latter and packs this film with adolescent performances. Some of these kids are more compelling than big name actors working today. Jaden Lieberher who plays Bill already has an impressive resume with films like “St. Vincent” and “Midnight Special.” Jack Dylan Grazer who plays Eddie is on the TV show “Me, Myself, and I.” Both Lieberher and Grazer have truly proven themselves. Then you have the added benefit of lesser known actors rounding out the cast like Sophia Lillis as Bev and Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben; they too prove to be heavy hitters. Muschietti took one hell of a risk and it pays off big time!
Getting Down With The Clown:
One of the hardest things about adapting “IT” is casting Pennywise the dancing clown. I know this should sound easy because clowns are terrifying (thanks John Wayne Gacy). However, it’s not an easy task because Pennywise was already well established thanks to Tim Curry’s performance in the mini-series. Casting that walking nightmare Pennywise, was undoubtedly a huge hurdle for Muschietti. What he got was an actor from a legendary acting family; Bill Skarsgard, son of Stellan Skarsgard from the “Thor” movies, brother to Alexander Skarsgard from “Big Little Lies” & Gustaf Skarsgard from “Vikings.” To say Bill has a name to live up to is an understatement.
Like Wolfhard, Skarsgard elevates his character. The original Pennywise was goofy and terrifying but was sorely lacking in the sinister department. Skarsgard does a decent job when it comes to incorporating this element. He’s terrifying, goofy, and sinister, but he’s also pretty funny at times. When I first heard of his cast my first though was: "No that won’t work. He’s too good looking and young." I was so wrong. Skarsgard is one of the reasons this film is so good. They said they’re going to establish his back story in the next film. This intrigues me because I’ve read the book and seeing his origins revealed on screen will be a treat.
Straying From The Source Material:
The book “IT” by Stephen King is super controversial because of one chapter in particular, which, thank God they left out. I’m not going to talk about it because it’s super disturbing and everyone else has already talked about it at nauseum. Instead, I want to focus on the character change ups they pulled off successfully. In the book, Mike is a bookworm and historian of Derry. He’s also a daddy’s boy and sensitive. In the film, Mike is an orphan farm boy, and they made Ben the historian. This isn’t a tremendous change. Mike still might grow up to be the librarian who acts as a Shepard of Derry protecting his flock. Also, a major character dies in this film; one who isn’t supposed to die until the end of the book. That means that character should have stayed alive in this film and died in the next movie. I understand why Muschietti did that because now he can have Bev’s husband Tom serve as that role. Still, I found it surprising.
Casting the Adult Losers Club:
Throughout the press tour, the children were asked who they’d want to see play their adult counterparts. The answers were Christian Bale as Bill. Jessica Chastain as Bev. Bill Hader as Richie. Jake Gyllenhaal as Eddie. Chadwick Boseman as Mike. Chris Pratt as Ben. And Lastly, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Stan. However, Warner Brothers said they want to cast lesser-known actors to play the adults. Which is Hollywood speak for we need actors in the 100K range; not millions. So technically, Bill Hader could still be in contention as Richie. To be honest, now that I heard that casting, I can’t see anyone else. Richie needs to be able to do impressions and voices and Hader is the king of both (I mean, have you heard his Keith Morrision from Dateline impression?) Hader might be the only one from that list that could actually happen.
As for the others, Chastain as Bev could happen because she was cast in Muschietti’s “Mama” and is close friends with him. If she took a pay cut, this could happen. There is one other thing in particular that I would like to see in the sequel. In the book and miniseries, Bill marries a woman named Audra who looks a great deal like Bev. I would love for them to cast Jessica Chastain as Bev, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Audra because the two always get confused in the media. Christian Bale on the other hand probably won’t happen because, well, he's Christian Bale. Honestly, I could see someone like Domhnall Glesson playing Bill or Sam Rockwell. My dream casting is Adam Scott from “Parks & Rec.” I think he’d be fantastic and prove he isn’t just a comedy actor. I’m not going to go into Stan because that would be too much of a spoiler. I will say Gyllenhaal might surprise you and play Eddie as he’s known for taking a paycut. In my opinion, if he hadn’t sadly passed away, Anton Yelchin would have been the perfect Eddie. The more I think about it, you could get Daniel Radcliffe or Elijah Wood as Eddie. As for Ben and Mike, I think Pratt and Boseman would be great. I think they’d both take a pay cut to play the roles. Yet my dream casting for Mike would have to be David Oyelowo from “Selma” and “Queen of Katwe.” He is one of the best actors working today and never gets enough credit in my humble opinion. I’m still trying to think of someone who could play Ben better than Pratt and I’m drawing a blank.
“IT” has become this national phenomenon and I wish it was 2019 already so I could see this damn movie. I want to know what they’re going to do next and where they are going to take the story. Also, will someone please cast the adults already!? I know it’s only been a month since the films release but the anticipation is killing me. If you haven’t seen the film yet and I spoiled it for you I’m sorry. If you have seen it and liked my take on it let me know. I always love hearing for you the reader.