Hollywood has never been shy about taking on Stephen King‘s literary works, and the results have been quite a mixed bag. From rousing highs such as The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me, to dismal lows with the likes of The Mangler and, more recently, The Dark Tower, the audience can never really tell what they’re going to get from a Stephen King adaptation. And when the subject being adapted is as beloved as IT, you can bet that there is an insurmountable amount of pressure to get it right. Luckily director Andy Muschietti doesn’t seemed to be have been phased at all by this, and has delivered a film that will be considered amongst the higher ranks of Stephen King adaptations.
If you have read the original novel, you will know that the book tells the story from the viewpoint of The Losers Club, a group of seven children, both as children and 27 years later as adults. However the film-makers have decided to split the story into two, with this film focusing on the children and, if the movie is successful, a sequel that will focus on the adults. Which is probably a smart idea because IT already clocks in at a 2 hour run-time.
Set in 1989, IT takes place in the small town of Derry, Maine. The Losers Club are ready to make the most of their summer holiday when a bout of mysterious child disappearances wracks the town. One by one the seven children realise that they are all being tormented by a demonic presence in the shape of a clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), who is feeding on their deepest fears. As much as they try to repress any memory of these encounters, the kids soon discover that they cannot run away from the terror that is hunting them.
As you might expect, this is a story with dark motifs running through it with sexual undertones and a plethora of scenes that will make you uncomfortable watching, especially as they involve child actors, but it’s surprising that even with such heavy subject matter the script is also very funny. Muschietti understands that the main cast are all kids and allows them to act as such. This manifests itself in the hilarious banter the children have with each other (with Finn Wolfhard‘s Richie Tozier being a particular highlight), the false bravado that comes with adolescence and even the awkwardness that pubescent teens experience around the opposite sex. These kids act like kids, and the on-screen chemistry of The Losers Club works so well that it’s apparent the bond the child actors have on-screen carries through off-set as well.
Now, as you may know, IT was already adapted previously in 1990, and while that mini-series doesn’t hold up as well when watched today, Tim Curry‘s incredible performance as Pennywise caused many a child to have a deep-seated fear of clowns. Curry’s Pennywise was the gold standard for killer clowns, but after seeing his performance as the 2017 version of Pennywise, I think Skarsgård has just set the new benchmark. Skarsgård exhibits a physicality that shifts between almost child-like and horrifying, a presence that causes unease just by merely standing there. As he preys on each of The Losers Club’s fears, the mix of visual effects with Skarsgård’s own contortions creates an otherworldly apparition that instantly brings about a sense of dread.
It must be said though IT felt more like a coming of age movie mixed with a psychological thriller than a down an out horror movie. With shades of Stand By Me and an almost Spielbergian lens into the world of The Losers Club, the emphasis is definitely on the children, the personal demons they have inside of them and the way they deal with the trauma that is besetting them rather than a host of jump scares and gruesome deaths. But that doesn’t mean the film shies away from showing the more grisly side of things either. There are plenty of sequences in the film that earn the film its R-rating and might be a bit tough for the more sensitive to watch.
It may not be the best Stephen King adaptation, but it’s a good adaptation nonetheless and I’m already hyped up to meet The Losers Club again as adults.
I give IT an 8.5 out of 10.