Stephen King’s IT is a horror classic with a simple premise – get a gang of misfit kids who need to battle their demons and overcome their fears. How do they do this? By literally defeating a demonic entity that takes on those fears in order to make them tasty enough to snack on. The first time we saw Stephen King’s IT come to life onscreen was in 1990 when Tim Curry stepped into the shoes of Pennywise and helped to develop a healthy fear of clowns in kids and adults everywhere. However, despite Curry’s memorable performance, the rest of the miniseries wasn’t as memorable. However, after watching Andres Muschietti’s adaptation of IT, I can say that we have a relatively memorable adaptation of the film. And it all comes down to the performances and attention given to The Loser’s Club in the film.
The film starts in 1989 and quickly ushers the audience into what kind of terror the town of Derry has to contend with by starting with the novel’s opening scene. We get a glimpse of the infamous Georgie, played by Jackson Robert Scott, before he is brutally murdered by Pennywise. From there we are introduced to the Losers’ Club and get a good glimpse into childhood nostalgia as well as the growing complications that come with bullying and puberty. This is where we get to see where the movie shines through its cast.
We are introduced to Georgie’s older Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), the over-compensating Richie (Finn Wolfhard), the hypochondriac Eddi (Jack Dylan Grazer), and the skeptical Stanley (Wyatt Oleff). The Losers’ Club eventually grows to add on new kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), home-school student Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and the ever-mysterious Beverly (Sophia Lillis). Beverly joining the gang and the reactions from the boys is handled with thoughtful care, carefully showing the audience the awkward and delicate dance that happens when it comes to friendships between males and females.
Muschiettei’s adaptation spends a lengthy amount of time showcasing how each individual member of the Losers’ Club as they each come across Pennywise. The set up of Pennywise cornering his prey is simple. IT isolates them before making them face their greatest fears and, as happens repeatedly, something manages to foil IT from getting each one of the Losers. This does get repetitive after awhile, but each sequence manages to be displayed in a way that is unique to bringing out the subtleties in the Losers when they come face to face with the things they fear most. That being said, the usage of jump scares and the general audience’s discomfort towards clowns was frustrating. On a primal level and from a directing standpoint, the decision to rely on jump scares makes sense because IT feeds off of fear. By making us jump in the moment and experiencing that momentary flutter of fear, we are then put in the kids’ shoes.
While the kids’ cast stands out, Bill Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise the Clown is terrifyingly childish and balances the line between seductive and completely and utterly terrifying. Where Tim Curry’s performance in the miniseries was more rooted in something more human, Skarsgard makes every effort to represent the more demonic side of IT. His jerky movements, vocal manipulations, costume, and makeup all play a hand in how a creature like IT can come to thrive off of the fear and misery of children.
As fear provoking as some scenes are, the flow of the film isn’t always consistent. Transitions between scenes, especially the horror-filled ones, come across as disconnected and edited purely for an obvious dramatic effect that doesn’t always work. There is a lot of telling in this film versus showing us the natural progression of the gang discovering who IT is and how they come to discover IT appears every 27 years. Instead, we are told, which takes away the gradual build up of unease and terror that the story should provoke. However, there is a weird balance between heartwarming childhood nostalgia and terror that works.
Overall, this adaptation of Stephen King’s IT is not the best adaptation out there. However, given the initial concerns fans had about this movie getting a reboot, I think fans of the book will be pleased. The changes that have been made in the adaptation work in its favor and, despite issues with the flow, the acting, and chemistry between the child actors is definitely what makes this film shine. I definitely recommend seeing it, even if you have a gut wrenching fear of clowns like I do.
Stephen King’s IT will be released in theaters on September 8, 2017.