All It needed to be a passable adaptation was to nail the Georgie scene. Like the opening to Scream or the first ten minutes of Up, the iconic teaser wherein Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott in this adaptation) loses his toy boat is more memorable than the rest of the movie. It’s emotionally devastating and provides the first image of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), ultimately making it the film’s most important scene. Compared to the rest of the movie, this scene is where the 2017 adaptation displays the most restraint. But by the end of the scene, it becomes clear that this version will be a lot more horrifying (both in scares and gore) than its predecessor.
There’s a demon in Derry, Maine. Nobody wants to talk about it, but avid reader/local loser Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) has figured out that… it… appears every twenty-seven years to eat children and wreak havoc. A campy, TV adaptation of Stephen King’s bestseller was released in 1990, and has remained a nostalgia classic despite not being very good. (kids are impressionable.) Twenty-seven years have passed, and Pennywise the Dancing Clown is back in the sewer.
King’s novel follows “The Losers’ Club” as they take it upon themselves to fight the demon clown. It also alternates between two time periods: child and adult. Instead of marrying themselves to an adult cast or condensing the 1000+ page book into a single film, this adaptation opts to reassemble all of the book’s flashback content into a single movie. The film is contained, but will probably benefit from the sequel already in production. The timeline has also been updated. The events take place in the summer of 1989, presumably so that the sequel can take place in 2016 (now all of those knife-wielding clowns make sense). The effect, however, is that It steals most of its aesthetic, and an actor, from the 80s-loving Stranger Things.
Unlike this review, It wastes no time in introducing us to the seven members of “The Losers’ Club”. Preferencing scares over characterization, the film relies on archetypes to build connections. Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Georgie’s older brother, leads the group, composed of: fat-kid/new-kid Ben; hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Glazer); loudmouth Richie (Finn Wolfhard); tomboy Bev (Sophia Lillis); home-schooled Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and skeptical Stanley (Wyatt Oleff). King’s source material does all the heavy lifting, and the characters still end up being better developed protagonists than those most horror films.
Directed by Andy Muschietti, the scares come quickly and frequently. A series of near-misses build tension and pace as the demon spooks the kids, costuming itself within tailor-made monsters. What the movie loses in cheap jump scares, it gains back in genuinely horrifying imagery. For the most part, It is a structurally safe adaptation. There are no major artistic changes, unlike in the never-made Cary Fukanaga/Chase Palmer vehicle (they are still credited as co-writers). However, while the story doesn’t do anything new or unexpected, the frantic pace and sheer relentlessness make it one of the scariest films of the year. Between this and Annabelle: Creation, co-writer Gary Dauberman is emerging as the most important name in mainstream horror.
Bill Skarsgård makes for a genuinely creepy Pennywise, even if his performance will always be compared (like I’m about to do) to Tim Curry’s masterwork of creepy faces. While this Pennywise may well be one of the creepiest clowns I’ve ever seen (even despite some questionable makeup choices), Tim Curry will always win the head-to-head match-up. In the 1990 miniseries, Tim Curry was working with so much less… just some white makeup and a piercing gaze. Because of this, the entire miniseries rested on his shoulders. On the other hand, the updated demon spends much less time as Pennywise, and when it does, Skarsgård is heavily aided by practical and special effects.
Without giving too much away, there are lots of teeth. SO many teeth. Instead of relying on implications, It’s R-rating allows it to show some of the attempted child murder we all are clearly clamoring to see. Often times, it’s a bit gratuitous, and thankfully the film has the willpower to not show us everything. The real benefit of the R-rating, however, is that the kids are free to talk like the foul-mouthed, toxic masculinity, frustrated teenagers that they are. This makes the characters more relatable, their reactions more believable and the script much punchier.
The film is still wrought with questionable racial and gender dynamics, and there is more than one moment where the predominant audience reaction will just be confusion. However, there are many more moments filled with laughter, heartfelt sadness and lots and lots of scares. All of this controlled chaos provides a whirlwind of emotion and catharsis that is everything an It adaptation could hope to be. It’s worth a trip to the theatre. Just don’t bring your children.