Stephen King has not always had the best of luck with movie adaptations. I can think back on maybe three or four movies that truly do their novel counterparts justice. (The Shining, Shawshank Redemption, Pet Sematary.) Well, I think it’s safe to say that we can add one more success to that list. I had already enjoyed the previous attempt at moving this book to film, and I wasn’t sure how I would like this new version. Allow me to be upfront: Congrats Mr. King, you just can’t stop fueling my nightmares.
IT is based on the novel by the same name and somewhat of a reboot of the 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry. The film is directed by Andy Muschietti (Mama 2013). IT stars Bill Skarsgaard of Hemlock Grove as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and some young up and coming talent including: Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things), Jaedan Lieberher, and Sophia Lillis.
If you’ve read the book or seen the earlier miniseries, you will be familiar with all the characters, as they’ve stayed the same. The only difference is the era in which the movie is set. (A change of decade switches the time to the eighties, as opposed to the sixties.)
For people who aren’t familiar, the basic premise of the story is this: a group of outcasts and misfits all notice strange happenings in their hometown of Derry, Maine. Children are disappearing, and our protagonists are being tormented by terrible phantasms in the form of their worst fears. When this unknown horror is not trying to terrify children outright, he retains the likeness of Pennywise, a sinister clown. Each one of the characters is exposed to this malignant menace and, after being tormented nonstop, they decide to band together and combat this dark force they form The Loser’s Club.
Without a doubt, the kids are the stars of the show. Their witty banter and believable rapport do much to draw you into the story. I became invested in the characters very early and they had me chuckling as they talked about all the things you don’t want to believe children that age speak of. I think much favor is owed to the writer, as actor lines are spot on, and the kids do well representing the script. Wolfhard’s character Richie Tozier provided just the right amount of laughs, as well as suspense, when you see his happy-go-lucky persona start to break down under the relentless assault of Pennywise.
The pacing is well done and no scene feels empty or meaningless. Not once did I lose interest because of a long stretch of dialogue or cinematography. It all feels very organic and concise.
One of my favorite scenes of the film, was very early on, when we first encounter the wretched villain of the story. Little Georgie Denbrough is chasing a paper boat down the flooded city streets, and a bump on the head forces him to lose pursuit, as the boat slips down a storm drain. He’s crouched in futility by the dark sewer entrance, and just the amount of anticipation builds before you see the menacing yellow eyes. The ensuing conversation did well to draw me in and I must say I was hooked after seeing the movie’s title portrayed in big ominous red lettering.
Bill Skarsgard is to be commended. I wasn’t sure how one could top Tim Curry’s original performance, but this young actor held his own. While he didn’t upstage Curry by a long shot, he did in fact bring a twisted facet not before seen from the likes of him. Given the shoes he had to fill, I think he did an extraordinary job and will serve as a fitting modern adaptation of Pennywise.
There were no small amount of scares in the film and much of it had me anxious. I will say, that I feel the movie relied a bit too heavily on the conventional jump-scare. I was disappointed when my subconscious began to predict when the next pop out would occur and I was uncannily correct most of the time. There were still some very unsettling scenes, mixed with dark humor, and just the right amount of horror. One such scene involves Richie and Bill, as they stare at three doors, marked in blood, proclaiming: Not Very Scary At All, Scary, and Very Scary. The boys are tasked with picking one of the three doors, hoping one will lead back to a friend in distress. You can imagine the cruel tricks our villain plays on the characters, and it makes for one of the best scenes of the movie.
The cinematography was modest, yet fit well. There were no superb chase shots I can recall, and not much 360 degree work, but I never felt like anything else was required. The camera work served the story very well, and all scenes combined made an engaging film. If the success of the movie continues, this will most definitely be a springboard for Muschietti. I would keep an eye out for this director in the future.
I was very skeptical going into this film, due to the recent critic chastisement of The Dark Tower, which came out last month. I wasn’t sure if my heart could handle one of my most beloved writers, getting torn up at the box office again. After all was said and done, my mind was at ease. I came out of the theatre with a smile on my face, dark thoughts to brood on when it came time to sleep, and isn’t that the very essence of a scary movie? A performance from a talented director, a budding cast, and a maniacal antagonist made this reviewer hesitant to turn out the lights.
Just when you thought Mr King was done with us, there appears a second chapter to this story. People who have read the book or watched the previous movie know how intricate and lengthy the tale is, so I think it was a wise decision to split the story in half. If the next installment is half as good as this one, you can have my money right now, Steve.
You should go see this movie now! I have no further recommendation other than take a large group, so you can all witness the spectacle of a reboot done right!
If you join us and watch, you can float too!