Andrés Muschietti’s “It” has proven in a year of really bad Stephen King adaptations, that it is very possible to put one of King’s most popular novels on screen and remind us once again why King is King. Muschietti, like Tommy Lee Wallace before him, has the daunting task of compressing an eleven hundred page novel in to what will end up being a five hour epic. Yet, “It” manages to come out mostly unscathed as a film that is both a spooky horror film and a stellar coming of age drama. Much like “Mama,” Muschietti’s work on “It” ends in a film that can be appreciated as a human drama and a pure horror movie packed with heart, scares, insight in to growing up in an unforgiving, cruel world.
The cinematic iteration of “It” touches upon one of the primary elements of the novel, in where our heroic seven children thrust in to the fight against an unstoppable force of evil, known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Pennywise is an indescribable wave of darkness that emerges from hibernation every twenty seven years to feed on victims from the base of his sewers. He does that by his abilities to manipulate and lure his prey, primarily kids which he prefers. Pennywise latches on to his victims, preying on their fears, and encouraging their darkest desires, and he meets his match in seven children enduring a cruel summer in the town of Derry, Maine. Director Muschietti approaches “It” with a more contemporary setting, dropping our story down in to the late eighties (as opposed to the novel’s post WWII).
In the prologue, we bear witness to Pennywise’s wrath as he lures young Georgie in to his sewer one rainy day, and viciously ensnares him in to his lair. After spending most of the year coping with the loss of his little brother Georgie, high schooler Bill and his friends begin investigating why he disappeared. When another local girl goes missing, Bill is convinced both disappearances are connected. They start piecing together a mystery involving a centuries old plague of death and misery caused by Pennywise, and how his power is linked to the mysterious sewers under the town, all the while befriending their new classmates. There’s overweight book worm Ben, African American farmer Mike, and tortured young Beverly. Pennywise quickly begins a calculated mission to terrorize the friends and pick them off one by one, but he’s unprepared when they band together to challenge his power.
The greatest strength of “It” is subtly. Much of what involves purely terrifying moments of sheer terror is the fact that Muschietti is brilliant at staging moments that creep up on us and then explode in to a wave of shocks. Pennywise is a monster that knows what can hurt these inadvertent child heroes, and “It” becomes a journey of discovery and evolution. The characters known as “The Losers Club” have to overcome their own anger, bitterness, and resentment at their own lives, before they can confront Pennywise once and for all. Pennywise just happens to be the sum of all of their pain and misery and wants more from them. “It” is primarily about the ugliness of Derry, Maine and how people haven’t just become oblivious thanks to Pennywise’s power, but have also become complacent, embracing the rotten core of their seemingly Rockwellian town.
The performances really help elevate “It” in to a coming of age film in the vein of “Stand By Me,” and “The Sandlot,” as the entire young cast are absolutely fantastic. Jaeden Lieberher is gut wrenching as Bill, while folks like Sophia Lillis, and Finn Wolfhard are scene stealers. That’s saying a lot, considering Bill Skarsgård’s work as Pennywise is absolutely terrifying. His Pennywise teems with a perverse sense of joy in delivering pain. Tim Curry will always have a place in the horror world, but Bill Skarsgård turns Pennywise from a scary horror villain, in to a terrifying force of evil bound to send shivers down even the toughest hero’s spines. All things considered, I’d love more emphases on character Mike Hanlon, whose character is much less crucial in this new iteration. I hope the sequel will remedy that caveat.
That said, “It” is easily one of my favorite movies of 2017. Director Muschietti does the novel immense justice, touching on aspects the original 1990 movie only hinted at, while keeping its focus primarily on our heroes, and how they’re forced to grow up, lest they’re literally consumed by their ultimate fears and insecurities.