Every year, we get a ton of horror films; very few actually deliver on their promise, and even fewer are the sorts of films that people will be watching years from now. 2017, however, has given us a real bumper crop – It Comes At Night, Mother, and the outstanding Get Out (read our review here) to name three. After going to a very crowded (for the second weekend after release) theater to watch the new adaptation of It, I think we can add another to the list.
It follows the flashback portions of Stephen King’s source material quite well, capturing the dynamic of innocent youth being forced to grow up far too fast by events beyond their control. While the novel’s early sections are set in 1960, here we get an alternative 1989, complete with music from some iconic bands (The Cult, Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Young MC, New Kids on the Block), AMC Gremlins, banana seat bicycles, and mullets. A year before the main action, Bill Denbrough’s [Jaeden Lieberher] little brother Georgie [Jackson Robert Scott] goes missing while playing with a paper boat Bill made for him. While everyone in town thinks it’s just an unfortunate accident, there’s something much more sinister at play. Georgie’s encounter with Pennywise the Dancing Clown [Bill Skarsgård] is just the first one we see, but as we find out when we meet “New Kid” Ben Hanscom [Jeremy Ray Taylor], a boy with no friends and nothing better to do than hang out at the library, dark things have been going on in Derry for a very long time indeed.
Just as this remake of It comes twenty-seven years after the first movie version (more on this below), it appears that something in Derry takes children every twenty-seven years, and then goes away until the next cycle. A group of children – Bill, Ben, Beverly Marsh [Sophia Lillis], Richie Tozier [Finn Wolfhard], Mike Hanlon [Chosen Jacobs], Eddie Kaspbrak [Jack Dylan Grazer], and Stanley Uris [Wyatt Oleff] – united both by their loser status (they even refer to themselves as the Losers) and because they are targets of the local bully, Henry Bowers [Nicholas Hamilton], gather together to try to find out what secrets lurk in the underbelly of their quaint little New England town. As they explore together, they find out that they have one more thing in common: they’ve each had a terrifying encounter with Pennywise in various of his guises.
It’s always risky when using a cast made up primarily of children, but there are occasional gems when the right group is put together – take Netflix’s Stranger Things, for example. In fact, one of the standouts from that series – Finn Wolfhard – is in It as well. Here, there isn’t a weak performance among them. They act and interact naturally, arguing, joking, playing, and surviving with all the awkward conviviality of boys on the cusp of manhood, with Beverly acting as a catalyst and bond between disparate members of the group – she’s the real gel that keeps them together, and first makes them admit to experiencing the supernatural events they’ve all been quietly witnessing.
As for the adults, Pennywise isn’t the only one the children have to struggle against. Every adult is either abusive (Beverly and Henry’s dads), distant and dismissive (Bill and Stanley’s dads), mentally unstable (Eddie’s mom), or just plain creepy (the local pharmacist). The kids are so alienated from the adults that they don’t even for a moment consider going to them for help, and it makes the Losers stronger for it.
I mentioned earlier that this is the second adaptation of It. The first, a two-part made-for-TV movie back in 1990, did a decent job with the source material, but was largely handicapped by being made with a television audience in mind (with all the restrictions the medium entails on language, content, and at the time, budget). The one truly standout part was Tim Curry’s delightfully psychotic turn as Pennywise – it’s worth hunting down the show for his performance alone. So how does the 2017 version compare? Better in almost every way, from the ability to use more authentic language, to the presentation of the more horrific elements, to the young actors chosen to star – and that’s not to mention what CGI effects are capable of doing now compared to almost three decades ago. So how about Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise? He plays the role quite a bit differently from Curry’s killer clown, and I think he is just as successful. His physical presence is far more menacing, and while Curry’s Pennywise flirted with an urbane politeness at times, Skarsgård’s has nothing civilized about him whatsoever. He is, frankly, terrifying.
It is an excellent adaptation of one of Stephen King’s best early novels. Coming in at just over 1000 pages, it’s naturally a difficult book to adapt, but by focusing only on the childhood encounters with Pennywise, it makes for a tight, tension-filled movie. The two hours plus run by very quickly, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the announced sequel – it should be out in 2019.
Steve’s Rating: (9 / 10)
While it isn’t The Shawshank Redemption (then again, what is?), this is one of the best Stephen King adaptations of all time (and there’s been a lot – 66 movies and 30 television productions and counting). Just like Pennywise, It gets a remake twenty-seven years later, and it’s superior in just about every way – well worth your time and money.
Director: Andy Muschietti
Writers: Chase Palmer & Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman (screenplay); Stephen King (based on the novel by)
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff
Release Date: September 8, 2017
Runtime: 2 hrs. 15 mins.
MPAA Rating: R