by Tony Di Nizo
Stephen King is one of the most prolific and recognizable names in literature. He has churned out classic after classic, creating stories that have terrified people for decades. One of his most famous works is the story IT. The massive novel has only received one adaptation prior to this new film; a two-part miniseries in 1990 which starred Tim Curry in the role as Pennywise. Now, just like the book, 27 years have passed and IT is ready to return.
IT tells the story of The Losers Club, a group of seven children whose summer vacation turns from idyllic to horrific with the disappearance of young children in their small town of Derry, Maine. The Losers are met with this evil as It appears to them in vivid visions personifying their greatest fears, but It always returns to its favorite form, Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Eventually the Losers band together to fight It and conquer their own demons.
Director Andy Muschietti had an incredibly difficult job in adapting this massive story. The novel is just over 1000 pages long and flashes back and forth between the Losers as children and to when they are adults returning to Derry. However, this film just focuses on the characters as children which is a really great idea. It allows this part of the story to have a greater impact and higher stakes because, as an audience, the futures of these characters are unknown.
Stephen King has always had a knack for writing children and Muschietti beautifully translates that in the film. He understands the wonder and joy of childhood friendships and the talkative ridiculousness of those dynamics. Through the script’s snappy and spot-on dialogue, the Losers are wonderfully realized here. You genuinely care about these characters and they feel like real people. Too often in horror movies we are left with flat and uninteresting characters who we do not care about. That is always their biggest fault because if we don’t care about the characters we don’t care when they are in danger. The result of that leaves the audience with a suspenseless and shallow experience with no stakes. That is not the case with this film. We genuinely like the Losers and they are surprisingly relatable and charismatic, and that is attributed to the incredibly talented cast.
Typically child actors are painful to watch, however, in this film, they all turn out really stellar performances. It is actually a bit disappointing that we cannot wait for these kids to grow up to play the adult versions of these characters, because they did such a wonderful job realizing them here. Something that I was surprised by the most is the fact that these kids could have easily carried a movie all on their own without the monster. It almost seemed like a chore when It was on screen because I was more invested and interested in the story of The Loser’s Club. I cannot fault the movie for this since it’s actually its biggest asset. Their anxieties, fears, struggles with growing up, and even their sexual awakenings are captivatingly on display here.
To torment the Loser’s Club is the terrifying clown, Pennywise,brilliantly brought to life by Bill Skarsgård. I was nervous about his performance going into the film, but, after the iconic storm drain sequence, I was immediately on board with his interpretation of Pennywise. They way Muschietti and Skarsgård reimagined the character is absolutely brilliant. Curry’s portrayal had more of a predatory and all around creep factor to it while Skarsgård upped the seductive nature and showmanship of the character. There was almost a level of performance art to the character which I thought was a brilliant idea. For example, the moment when Eddie sees Pennywise at the Neibolt house, the balloon construct had an artistic approach to it. Even when Pennywise reveals himself to Eddie inside of the house, he folds out of an old refrigerator like a contortionist and then proceeds to strut and bow towards Eddie. The aspect of performance art added to the psychology of It, showing how much enjoyment It gets from tormenting its victims. Skarsgård also gave this character a chilling voice, constantly changing in pitch and tone that really sends a shiver up your spine. He also did a really great job of selling the look of Pennywise. It is not difficult to make a clown look scary, but this costume and makeup could have looked silly on any other actor. Skarsgård wore the makeup and costume, it didn’t wear him.
While I really enjoyed Skarsgard’s performance and his moments on screen, Pennywise was one of the few problems for this film which is interesting because the character is the selling point of the film and the actor knocked it out of the park. While the scares were not the issue, the sequences featuring Pennywise felt repetitive and predictable. The first half of the film featured a collection of scenes where each one of the Losers would see It as their worst fear, then It would turn into Pennywise, and spook the kid before ending the scene. While each moment with It was visually compelling, thematically and narratively, they did very little to push the plot forward other than having the kids encounter It individually. Luckily, the scenes were short enough to not cause the film to drag. However, I wish that they did a little more to move the plot along because it felt like the story was moving and then everything would stop so we could get spooked by a scary clown. The film would have benefitted from a more streamlined and story driven approach to the scares and early scenes with Pennywise.
Along with the film’s shortcomings I found the score to be forgettable. Horror films like Jaws and Psycho have benefitted from terrifying and memorable scores that leave a lasting impression on an audience. The score in this film is not scary and feels absent. Where the score is present, it plays like the score in a C level horror film when it should have played like a more prestige horror picture which is what this film is supposed to be. The not scary score leads to another issue I had with the film. I didn’t think it was scary enough. Granted, take into account that I saw Jaws for the first time when I was three years old and it didn’t bother me. So, either I am a complete sociopath or this movie didn’t give me the spooks. The film was certainly creepy, suspenseful, and tense, but it didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. Anyway, the film does feature some pretty terrifying images and does a good job with suspense.
Director Andy Muschietti did a really great job with this film. He successfully adapted a sprawling novel into a compelling adventure with really great characters and performances. The film has beautiful cinematography and escapes what has unfortunately become the standard for modern horror films. This film spectacularly escapes that trend and plays like a prestige horror classic that is going to have excellent re-watchability. IT may not be the best Stephen King adaptation, even though it comes impressively close, but it is probably the most “Stephen King” esque movie ever perfectly capturing the spirit and tone of the novel. The groundwork is beautifully laid here for the second chapter and I am very excited to see the story continue. If you have not seen IT yet, go with a large group of friends in a packed theatre and I’m sure that you’ll float too.