I don’t know about anyone else but I think that it’s pretty safe to say that if you ask anyone who they think is one of the greatest horror writers of all time, it would be an absolute guarantee that Stephen King would be one of the first names mentioned. Ever since his debut novel CARRIE was first published back in 1974, he has gone on to become one of horror’s most popular and influential writers. Many of his novels (THE SHINING, THE STAND, MISERY, THE DEAD ZONE etc.) are now considered classics of literature and most of them have been adapted into either successful films, TV shows or mini-series. However there is one novel of his in particular that many people consider to be his magnum opus, which is his legendary 1986 novel IT. The massive 1,138 page was instant best seller when it was first released and it introduced readers to one of King’s most terrifying creations: the child-eating shapshifting entity known as ‘Pennywise the Dancing Clown’. The novel was later adapted into a 1990 three-hour long TV mini-series, which is still fondly remembered today due to actor Tim Curry’s unforgettable performance as ‘Pennywise’. Over the years Hollywood has also been trying to adapt the novel to the big screen as well. After many years in development the film has finally arrived in 2017 under the direction of Andy Muschietti, the filmmaker behind the hit 2013 horror film MAMA. Was this new adaptation able to live up to the novel? Read on and find out!
Set in the summer of 1989, the film follows the lives of a group of kids – Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Ritchie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and Stan (Wyatt Oleff) – who form a group together known as the ‘Losers’ Club’ due to each of them being an outsider in their home town of Derry, Maine. However strange things begin to happen in Derry when some of the local children have either mysteriously disappeared or have been found dead. One of them being Bill’s younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), who vanished a few months prior after he went outside to play during a rain storm. When the ‘Losers Club’ soon discover that each of them has had a terrifying encounter with a monstrous clown named Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), they start to realise that he may be the cause for all the disappearances and murders all the children in town. Putting their own personal fears aside, the ‘Losers Club’ decide to band together and stop Pennywise’s reign of terror.
Now I think that it would be a complete understatement to say that out of all the films being released this year, IT was definitely one of my most anticipated film of 2017. Between finally getting around to both read Stephen King’s fantastic original 1986 novel and finally watch the famous 1990 mini-series (which I thought was a watchable if rather mediocre adaption) for the first time, I was absolutely excited for this film. Especially after seeing the trailers as well, which I think are some of the greatest horror trailers I’ve ever seen. Plus I was also very curious to see if director Andy Muschietti would be able to able to deliver on this long waited big screen adaptation of the novel. Even though I wasn’t really the biggest fan of his debut film MAMA (which I thought was merely okay), it did showcase his potential as a promising horror filmmaker nonetheless. So how did the film turn out? Well I can tell you right now that not only did IT manage to live up to its high expectations to being one of the best horror films of the year, I’d even go as far as to say that it’s also one of 2017’s best overall films as well. While I’ll admit that I wasn’t scared by it as I thought I would be (to be fair I’ve been watching horror films for nearly 20 years now, so it takes a lot to really scare me now), it didn’t stop it from still being an absolutely fantastic horror film that I found to be equal parts captivating, creepy, intense, heartfelt and entertaining. Everyone involved all did a brilliant job for making a big screen adaptation that was able to perfectly capture the essence, dread and thrills of what made King’s novel a classic for decades.
While I know most fans of the novel might be annoyed that the film isn’t quite 100% faithful to the source material but for me personally, I thought that the changes actually made a lot of sense in what they were going with. Instead of trying the adapt of the entire 1,138 page novel (which took a parallel story structure by going back-and-forth between the ‘Losers Club’ both as kids in the ’50s and as adults in the ’80s) into a single film, director Andy Muschietti and his screenwriters (Chase Palmer & Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman) decided to cut the book in half and have this one focus squarely on our main characters as kids, which I thought was the right approach to do. Plus since they also decided to shift the kid’s story from 1958 to 1989, it’s understandable that they would to have to update elements of the story to fit this new time period. Sure some of the first encounters that the ‘Losers Club’ have with ‘Pennywise’ are very different and other key elements (scenes, details and character backstories) didn’t get translated over, the film still manages to very faithful to the characters, themes and spirit of the novel’s kids section. The script itself is very well written and it does a great job at balancing the character drama with the horror. This is a film where it could have easily have focused on just the horror elements alone and nothing else but since the filmmakers actually took the time to probably develop and flesh out the main characters, it makes us as an audience become more emotionally invested in the story.
When it comes to the film’s direction, I thought Andy Muschietti absolutely knocked it out of the park with his work here. He took the best qualities of his debut film MAMA and amplified them more here. Muschietti handling of the film’s most terrifying moments were superbly well done and I found myself on edge with how intense some of them were. Whether it be a creepy and subtle slow-burn scene or an effective jump scare, he executed them all extremely well (there’s one scene in particular involving a bathroom sink that’s almost directed like it was a scene out of the EVIL DEAD series). Even though this is an appropriately dark and serious horror film, Muschietti never forgets to give it a fun and humorous quality to it as well. It’s pretty clear when you watch the film that he used ’80s horror classics like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, FRIGHT NIGHT and THE MONSTER SQUAD as inspirations for IT’s tone. When it comes to the performances from the cast he assembled, he was able to get some truly great work from all of them. One in particular is Bill Skarsgård in the role of the film’s villain ‘Pennywise’. I was wondering if he would able to deliver in the role since Tim Curry’s turn as the character in the 1990 TV mini-series was so iconic. Well, I’m happy to report that Skarsgård absolutely killed it and there’s no doubt in my mind that his take of ‘Pennywise’ is now the definitive version of the character. While he could have easily have tried to copy Curry’s performance, Skarsgård brings some unique and sinister qualities to this ‘Pennywise’ that really do make the role his own. His creepy performance is a true force of nature and you can’t take your eyes off him every time he is onscreen. However despite Skarsgård being as great as he is, it’s his younger co-stars who are the film’s biggest draw.
I don’t know who cast all the young actors to play as the members of the ‘Losers Club’ but whomever that person was, they need be given some kind of an award. Seriously, this film has one of the best child actor ensembles that I have seen in a film in quite a while. As the members of the ‘Losers Club’, all the young actors (Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs, Wyatt Oleff) are all absolutely terrific and each one of them is perfectly cast in their role. The chemistry between the young actors was truly believable and its their relationships with each other that’s the true emotional heart of the film. In a lot of ways they reminded me so much of young casts from films that I grew up with like THE GOONIES, STAND BY ME and THE SANDLOT. The stand outs of group for me were Lieberher, Wolfhard and espeically Lillis. Jaeden Lieberher was great and he really captured the leadership qualities of the character. Plus he’s arc throughout the film was really quite heartbreaking as well. Finn Wolfhard (who’s best know for his role on the TV show STRANGER THINGS) stole every scene he was in with his hilarious as ‘Ritchie’. He provided some of the film’s most funniest moments. However my favourite performance of the group was Sophia Lillis’s turn as ‘Beverly’. It’s a pretty complex role for any young actor to play and she played it brilliantly. Lillis is definitely going to a big star that’s for sure. Also while he wasn’t in the film all the much, young Jackson Robert Scott was great in his role as ‘Georgie’ as well. On the technical side the score by Benjamin Wallfisch (LIGHTS OUT, A CURE FOR WELLNESS, ANNABELLE: CREATION) was both terrific and creepy, the production/costume designs captured the period really well, the cinematography from Chung-hoon Chung (OLDBOY, STOKER, THE HANDMAIDEN) was sublimely atmospheric and the climax was amazing to watch.
I must admit that even though that I pretty much loved everything about the film, there are a couple of minor nitpicks that I had with it. While the filmmakers did a really great job of staying as faithful as they possible can to the kids section from the original novel, there were some aspects from the book that as a fan I would have liked to have seen brought over to the film. Especially more of the novel’s most memorable and disturbing moments, which I thought could have played a key part in this film adaptation (just for the record: I am not referring to *that* pointless controversial scene that happens with the ‘Losers Club’ in the novel. I’m glad isn’t in this film at all). However it’s very possible that they’ll most likely save that stuff for the sequel, so we’ll have to wait and see. While I thought that the film was full of effectively scary scenes, I can understand why someone would be put off by the film’s constant jump scares. I’ll admit that some of them did get a little too much at times. I would have been great if there had been some more subtle and slow-burn scary moments. It’s scares like that I found to be the most chilling and effective. Plus it comes to the film’s CGI effects and enhancements, I did find the look of some of them to be a bit iffy at times.
Overall despite some of my minor nitpicks, I absolutely loved IT. As a fan of the novel, I’m incredibly happy with how this big screen adaptation turned out. It was a truly terrific and superbly made horror film that I just found completely riveting from beginning to end. There’s no question that this film definitely belongs up there as one of the best adaptations of Stephen King’s work as well as being a modern-day horror classic. Plus I have to give it major credit for not over-indulging itself on the ’80s nostalgia, which is something that has been annoying me a lot lately with most recent ’80s themed throwback films and TV shows. Whether you have read the novel or not, it’s a film that I highly recommended you all to check out. Hopefully you’ll enjoyed and be creeped out by it as much as I did. Now bring on the sequel!
Review written by Bede Jermyn