Andy Muschietti's adaption of Steve King's It tells the first part of the novel's story as a group of misfit teenagers, dubbed “The Losers,” battle against an entity (It) that periodically terrorizes the town of Derry, Maine. Although a horror film, the coming-of-age elements are much more engaging due to the talented cast creating authentic characters.
It opens in the fall of 1988 when a young boy named Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) has a gruesome encounter with Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) the Dancing Clown, a form It frequently takes in order to taunt its victims before killing them. The film cuts to a year later with Georgie presumed dead, although his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), who has a stutter, holds out hope that he's still alive somehow since the body was never found. Other children also go missing, which has been happening at much higher rate than the national average since the town was founded.
Just like Bill, The Losers are bullied by others, usually picked on for their differences. Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) is Jewish. Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) is a hypochondriac because of his domineering mother. Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is the new kid and he's overweight. Mike (Chosen Jacobs) is African American. Richie (Finn Wolfhard) is constantly talking, trying to be funny. Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is called a slut by the other girls, but unfortunately the only sexual contact she has had is the abuse from her father. In fact, most of The Losers are shown being mistreated by their parents. In addition, the Losers have to deal with some vicious, older teenagers, led by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), who bully them.
It appears to have free reign in the town as the adults don't or won't bother to notice what's happening. It taps into the children's fears, appearing to them in different scary forms. They must face them and work together in order to defeat It.
I have not read Stephen King's novel nor seen the TV miniseries, so I came to the material fresh. The screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman tells an intriguing story, although it benefited from not having to have an ending or any explanation about what It is. Beverly says she had a vision of the Losers reuniting as adults in 27 years to once again battle It, so even before the credits revealed it, It: Chapter Two was already expected. That's not to say this chapter didn't have a satisfying resolution because where the film ends makes sense.
Muschietti's handling of the horror was hit and miss, usually suffering from not leaving things up to the viewer's imagination. The meeting between Georgie and Pennywise starts off being very suspenseful, but there was no need to see the latter's attack. The image of Georgie's blood in the rainwater made clear what happened and was a great visual. In fact, Pennywise is seen to often, diminishing his power to frighten. Using Benjamin Wallfisch's score and other loud noises is too easy of a manner to startle. Was also a tad turned off by all the child abuse, which seemed important to the story and didn't feel gratuitous, but was still off-putting.
The video has been given a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Colors come through in vivid hues, as can be seen in Pennywise's orange hair and the red blood in Beverly's bathroom. Whites, as seen in Pennywise's make-up, are bright. Blacks are inky, but some scenes find them crushing, like when Georgie goes to the basement, but having things harder to see may have been intentional to make the scene scarier. Otherwise, shadow detail is strong. Objects look well defined. Fine texture detail can be seen. The frames offer up great depth
Audio is available in Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. I listened to the latter. The dialogue is clear and understandable. The score and ambient effects, like during the rain storm, fill the surrounds. The tracks have a great dynamic range, from the whispers of dead children to loud crashes and spikes in the score. The elements are balanced well in the mix.
The HD extras include: "Pennywise Lives!" (16 min): A look at the creation and performance of the character with Skarsgård, Muschietti, and the cast. "The Losers' Club" (16 min): The actors discuss the bond of their characters. "Author of Fear" (14 min): Stephen King talks about taking ideas from his life and research about Bangor, ME to create the book. "Deleted Scenes" (15 min) Eleven scenes that were either deleted, extended, and even includes a gag scene.
A scarier version of Stand By Me, It offers thrills and chills and more importantly interesting characters to care about. The Blu-ray delivers a quality high-def presentation and a few extras of interest about the creation of the film. Recommended, although one may want to wait for the inevitable two-pack that will collect both chapters.