Hitting cinemas this week, “It” isn’t a remake of the classic 1990 miniseries that taught a generation to fear clowns (and/or Tim Curry)–it’s a fresh take on the original Stephen King novel of the same name. So how does 2017’s version stack up in a landscape cluttered with new horror franchises?
IT HAS STEPHEN KING’S APPROVAL
As anyone familiar with bestselling author Stephen King’s hatred of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining well knows (despite it being a classic, it takes a number of departures from King’s text), he isn’t the biggest fan of many of the films that have been made out of his bestselling novels.
Which made it all the more surprising when this was posted back in March:
For anyone quick to point out that it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, King himself took to Twitter four days later to put an end to that argument:
Andy Muschietti’s remake of IT (actually it’s Part 1–The Losers’ Club) succeeds beyond my expectations. Relax. Wait. And enjoy.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) March 7, 2017
The film opens in 1988, in King’s oft-used fictional town of Derry, Maine, as a boy named Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) puts the finishing touches on a paper boat for his little brother, Georgie. Soon after, Georgie disappears under mysterious circumstances, instilling a deep sense of guilt in Bill.
The setting then shifts to a year later; it is the summer of 1989, and Bill is with his friends in the so-called Losers Club. With the school semester drawing to a close, Bill decides to enact his plan to venture into the sewers and find his brother, despite the protests of fellow Loser Richie (Finn Wolfhard, Stranger Things’ Mike!).
Little do the Losers know, they will soon find themselves face to face with the real horror that lies beneath their streets.
Speaking of the evil clown who has dominated the film’s marketing, Bill Skarsgard (Atomic Bonde) plays a very different sort of demon from that of Tim Curry’s iconic portrayal. Where Curry’s inherent creepiness would occasionally give way to flashes of animalistic rage for emphasis, Skarsgard’s Pennywise the Dancing Clown is a more consistently energetic haunter of children. At any rate, if you weren’t scared of clowns before, prepare to be messed up by It.
When it comes to the hero kids, their characterizations are similar to those of Netflix’s Stranger Things. But where Stranger Things was a loving pastiche of 80s genre films, It has more in common, thematically, with another King story, The Body. Much like It, The Body (and its classic film adaptation, Stand By Me) also features a group of misfits in a nostalgia-based coming-of-age tale.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
Thankfully, the kids are relatable and actually quite likable, acting (and swearing), like actual kids, rather than the precocious tots Hollywood likes to showcase. Whether they’re bragging about their (non-existent) sexual prowess or discovering the pangs of first love – represented by the introduction of Beverly, the only female Loser – they are entirely believable.
IT’S SCARY. VERY SCARY.
I won’t break down the psychological aspects since that’s the entire point of Pennywise, but I will say that It makes brilliant use of sound design and editing to deliver some genuinely terrifying scenes. Granted, the first couple of acts rely heavily on typical jump scares and fake outs, but when director Andrés Muschietti (Mama) finally centers the film on his characters as an ensemble (rather than individuals), this horror flick kicks gloriously into gear.
IT IS ONLY THE BEGINNING
Seeing as the original novel was 1100 pages long, this wasn’t all that surprising, but the media screening we attended exploded into cheers when the words “End of Chapter One” appeared on the screen. If the sequel follows the second half of the book, then the next installment should be set when the kids are all adults. Already, the Hollywood rumor mills are spinning with people placing bets on who should portray the adult versions of the kids.
THE BEST STEPHEN KING HORROR ADAPTATION?
While King’s non-horror stories have yielded award-winning films such as The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and Stand By Me, the same can’t be said of the works he’s more famous for. Indeed, aside from Carrie and The Shining, most attempts to adapt his horror novels have been pretty embarrassing (not the least of which is Maximum Overdrive, which King himself directed).
Regardless of genre, however, the new It stands out, not just for being faithful to the source, but for how well it translates the novel’s overall feeling of dread.
Now, those weaned on more recent horror franchises may be surprised to find that It takes its time to get going. Rest assured, though, that this film is entirely in line with the best Stephen King novels: rambling in places and happy to take its time, but punctuated by freaky, disturbing moments that combine into a journey you’ll ultimately be glad to have taken.
Just don’t go alone.
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