Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff
This seems to be the year of highly anticipated Stephen King adaptions. His works are highly cherished by his fans, so there is always a concern that the film won’t be able to live up to the story us readers have envisioned for the years we have spent devouring his characters time and time again. The Dark Tower disappointed earlier this summer, but IT does not fall victim to that. Trust me. It’s my favorite book of all time. My hardcover is 1138 rich pages set in the often-used fictional town of Derry, Maine. It has experienced the same tragedy for decades on end. For Bill Denbrough (Lieberher) the horrors all started after the death of his kid brother Georgie. It was down pouring one afternoon when Georgie decided to play outside with his toy paper boat. He watched it float down the water current right into the sewer drain. He attempted to save it, but a clown appeared luring him in with his bubbly voice. Georgie was then eaten and sucked into the sewers by Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Skarsgård).
Over the next year Bill is determined to try to find Georgie despite the disapproval of his parents. It’s no better at school where he constantly deals with bullies. Luckily he has a good group of friends, each an outcast in their own way giving them the nickname “The Losers Club.” There’s the bookish and overweight Ben (Taylor), foul mouth Richie (Wolfhard), quiet germaphobe Stan (Oleff), tomboy Beverly (Lillis), hypochondriac Eddie (Grazer), and farmhand Mike (Jacobs). As the summer passes on, each one becomes haunted with their own fears and demons culminating in the sight of Pennywise. News continues to spread that more kids continue to go missing in Derry. Pennywise appears out of the sewers every twenty-seven years. Bill becomes determined that the only way to cope with Georgie’s death and prevent any more kids from going missing is for the Losers Club to band together and kill Pennywise once and for all.
If you’re in your thirties like myself, you grew up watching the 1990 TV mini-series that scared the crap out of you thanks to Tim Curry’s iconic performance as Pennywise. That version doesn’t quite hold up anymore outside of Curry. It’s worth noting for fans of the book that this adaptation is structured a bit differently. Unlike the book and mini-series, this film does not go back and forth between the two timelines with the Losers Club as kids and adults. It focuses only on the kid’s timeline and will save the adult timeline for the second movie. Don’t be so shocked that the credits start with “IT: Chapter One.” It’s meant to be that way and not a cash grab for a sequel. Like I mentioned before, it’s a detail-oriented holistic look at the city of Derry. Splitting this version up helps dive in a bit deeper to each timeline that was missing from the mini-series.
What King excels at is his storytelling and the way he writes his characters. The film’s script by Chase Palmer, Gary Dauberman, and Cary Fukunaga feels in tune with how he shapes his characters. The strength and bond between the friends is the focus of the film as opposed to just making it about a horrific clown. The struggles of teen bullying are easy to latch on to if you’ve experienced that yourself. You grow to really feel for what they’re going through knowing they’re all they have in this small town. Their parents, teachers, and guardians are of no help. To counter these awful moments, the writers (thanks to King) add in hilarious banter back and forth between them. I found myself laughing far more than I had anticipated. It’s the kind of ribbing you’d expect from boys on the verge of adolescence. They’re shocking jabs you can’t help but laugh as they each try to top the other one’s comeback.
It’s the same kind of rapport that was also found in Stand By Me, which was based on King’s novella “The Body.” IT has that feeling of a grim Stand By Me or The Goonies. It’s worth noting that the writers shifted the timeline from the late ‘50s to 1988 and 1989. For me, it doesn’t affect the story but plays into the nostalgia factor for my generation, which was also brought out recently in Stranger Things. The connections don’t stop there as that show was hugely inspired by the likes of King and Steven Spielberg. Actor Finn Wolfhard, who plays Richie Tozier, is also part of the Stranger Things ensemble. This movie wouldn’t be what it is without the excellent chemistry that the cast brings to their characters. As Bill, Jadeden Lieberher is probably the next most recognizable face thanks to Midnight Special and The Book of Henry. He’s a promising young actor who can easily lead this group of Losers. Sophia Lillis is a knockout as Beverly. You just weep for what Beverly has to go through. Each character gets their moment to shine, and they’re all so perfectly cast.
The main question you may be asking yourself is if IT is scary. You have to go in and realize that there’s no way to top what Tim Curry brought to Pennywise. It’s not necessarily about being better. Pennywise is a symbol of what each person finds scary. He takes on many forms, so there is more than one way to play the character effectively. Rest assured as Bill Skarsgård (Atomic Blonde) is frightening. Skarsgård and director Andy Muschietti (Mama) have a very different take on the character based on who he’s terrorizing. There are more visual effects used this time around which takes away from the realism that made Tim Curry so scary. There are plenty of effective jump scares as the story progresses. Muschietti keeps the character at a distant in the first half, but then doesn’t let up by the time the Losers Club go after him. Even for someone who knows the material really well, I had my moments of loud outbursts at the screen for when Pennywise is literally in your face.
For me, IT is more than a movie about a clown with a demented grin, white face, and orange hair. It’s strengthened by the power of friendships these kids have with each other. You want them to overcome their fears and stand up against the bullies and adults that, frankly, are far scarier than Pennywise. The bond they have is set up beautifully and is a testament to the power of King’s work. There are structural changes from the book which is a given. Unlike The Dark Tower, IT is still immensely entertaining for those coming in fresh for the first time or frightened of the 1990s mini-series as a kid. Just when you thought you’d overcome your fear of clowns, IT makes them a bad reality all over again.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? One of the best Stephen King adaptations in decades
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS