TV editorMatt Dawson gives the latest Stephen King Adaptation a big thumbs up
Stephen King adaptations have had a mixed history at the cinema. For every The Shining or The Shawshank Redemption, there is a Maximum Overdrive to be condemned to the annals of history. This year was no different, with the lukewarm reception of last month’s The Dark Tower, many book and horror fans alike were waiting with cautious optimism for the most recent adaptation of the epic tome It, and thankfully we weren’t disappointed.
The story unfolds in the late 80s in the quiet town of Derry, Maine. On the surface, it seems innocent enough until children start disappearing. The cause of these disappearances? The terrifying (and well-marketed) Pennywise the Dancing Clown, portrayed remarkably by Bill Skarsgård. Now I never experienced the famed trauma of Tim Curry’s interpretation of Pennywise in the 1990 miniseries, but the character has become one of the iconic movie clowns alongside the likes of The Joker and Beetlejuice, and Skarsgård does the role justice. His introductory scene in the storm drain is mesmerising, and owes a lot to his skin-crawling mannerisms and a voice that sounds like a psychotic Scooby Doo. The film adapts the creature’s ability to manifest itself based on the fears of the protagonists, but keeps Pennywise as its main form so the audience and the Losers’ Club has something to fear.
It’s this group of children that are the lynchpin of the film, as they face off against It one by one before uniting as a group in an attempt to conquer their fears. The leader Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) is the Losers’ Club leader, motivated by getting revenge on Pennywise as he murdered his younger brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), and it is emotionally unsettling to see how It exploits this tragedy. Finn Wolfhard (of Stranger Things fame) brings the charisma to the group as loudmouth Richie Tosier, who is complemented by the hypochondriac Eddie Kasbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), and despite a plethora of one-liners, it’s Eddie that ends up with the best line of the film. Another highlight is Sophia Lillis’ Bev Marsh, as she provides the only female perspective, that comes with its own trauma from a horrific human angle. But as such, not all of the group gets an equal amount of attention, leaving Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) and Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) a little undeveloped.
It is quite self-aware as a film, and with the choice to shift the setting to the 80s, director Andy Muschietti takes full advantage of this. The best way to describe the movie is a mixture of demonic horror and a John Hughes flick, and through the orchestral soundtrack and references to A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and Molly Ringwald, It definitely capitalises on this. The horror aspects are updated for a modern audience, replacing the novel’s ’50s movie monsters with things like abstract paintings coming to life and the imagery of clowns themselves as a source of terror.
However, one of the few downsides to the film is that no matter how scary the visuals are, some of the scares aren’t as terrifying as King’s prose. Some key parts of the backstory of Derry felt glossed over, meaning that intriguing incidents like “The Brady Gang” or “The Fire at the Black Spot” hardly get a mention. By extension, the movie only hints on the creature’s manipulation of other people, which was another aspect that could be explored deeper, especially regarding how the bullies were handled. The ending was left very open for the confirmed sequel, which may address these issues, but here’s hoping that the producers don’t exploit the film’s financial and critical success to churn out endless sequels and turn it onto yet another nonsensical horror franchise.
VERDICT: Overall, It is definitely worth the watch, especially as Pennywise is just as frightening as the trailers and viral marketing make him out to be. The main group of kids (for the most part) was a well-rounded bunch of characters that we can root for, even if some were more well developed than others.