It. 2017. Directed by Andy Muschietti. Screenplay by Gary Dauberman, Cary Fukunaga, & Chase Palmer. Based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King.
Starring Jaeden Liberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Owen Teague, & Jackson Robert Scott.
New Line Cinema/KatzSmith Productions/Lin Pictures
Rated R. 135 minutes.
When I walked into an empty theatre today, September 9th of 2017, it was raining heavy outside. I was soaked by the time I made it inside. Then the lights dimmed, popcorn crunching in the darkness around me as more people piled in for a hopeful fright. And suddenly I was in Derry, Maine. There, the rain was pouring, too. Just as heavy as in the parking lot of the Avalon Mall in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
I hadn’t read It until this summer, when I powered through it over the course of a week. Although I’ve been a lifelong fan of Stephen King, having been introduced by mother at an age she deemed appropriate, the length always threw me. Yet the pages flicked by, faster every day. Once it was finished I found myself staring at one of the best novels I’d ever read. Not without its faults. But even the perfect things in this world we love have those, or else they wouldn’t be real, raw, as King’s novel is, most certainly.
Andy Muschietti’s 2017 adaptation is, in many ways, its very own entity. Simultaneously retaining the pure essence of King, his gruelling horror crossed with the beauty and pain of transitioning into adolescence. It is relentlessly creepy and boasts a cast of fantastic talent. Not only that, there’s so much emotion and sincerity in just about every frame that it feels like the screen could burst and the film could come alive at any moment.
Just as the novel does, the film opens with a scene of devastating power. This could’ve been done in any number of ways. Muschietti opts to go straight for the jugular, showing us a scene involving young Georgie Denborough that many filmmakers might not. But with a novel like It, there’s no sense in not swinging for the fences. While I have great love for the 1990 mini-series in its own ways, that was one of its biggest problems, as is the case with plenty of other lacklustre King adaptations. If you can’t go full-on for the horror, often times of a very disturbing nature with his writing, then there’s almost no sense in doing it.
Because this novel was so scary, the imagery is key. Muschietti also convinced the studio to let him tweak the screenplay Cary Fukunaga worked on, which, for some reason, omitted things like Bill’s stutter. Another big thing that was missing: the Leper. There are a bunch of scenes in the novel that are terrifying, but the Leper’s up there, for me. And even though he doesn’t speak the same lines as from the book, his appearance in the movie will freak you out.
Then there are wholly original images Muschietti’s creates. One minor change I enjoyed is switching pieces of Ben and Mike’s characters. With Ben being new to Derry, this adaptation has him as the one researching the town’s creepy past. At one point, stumbling onto an old local tragedy, Ben is led by flaming Easter eggs into the dark corners of the library stacks where It appears as a headless man coming for him. Just a weirdly compelling scene, ending with a solid scare.
And best of all, the images are all relatively new in the sense that this adaptation doesn’t try to replicate any of what the 1990 mini-series did, it goes for breaking new ground at every turn. Not only exciting, it shows the confidence of a filmmaker like Muschietti.
There’s a strong heart to this version of It. One major reason why all of King’s work appeals to many is because, despite any wild horror or sci-fi-leaning situations he gets his characters into, the people, their lives, their dreams, their fears – they feel entirely real. As we spend more time with each of the kids in the Losers’ Club, their childhoods – at least for some – will feel like your own.
A few elements concerning the kids that work as excellent translations from the novel: I could’ve used a tad more but we got brief glimpses of the effect Georgie’s death had on the relationship between Bill and his parents; Eddie’s mom is suffocating him, on the borderline of Munchausen syndrome, and his scene of defiance made me both proud of him and sad for her; how Bill and the Losers wind up in the Barrens, the search for Georgie, it somehow elevates the emotional intensity of our poor stutterer’s tragic situation; Ben made me cry, the feelings he had for Bev and how she responds throughout the film, specifically a scene near the climax, it felt like fan service for people who’ve already loved these characters; and, the apocalyptic rock fight scene, including a slice of heavy metal, truly captured the intensity and frantic action of the book’s unforgettably heroic sequence.
Perhaps my favourite scene is when Bill goes into Georgie’s room. Rather than replicate the book, or the 1990 version, Muschietti goes for a sly reference to the novel, plus a damn fine fright. First, young Bill picks up the Lego turtle, calling to mind the cosmic turtle that King so strangely and wonderfully knits into his text. Second, in the basement, he confronts the ghost of Georgie and It, resulting in a moment of unforgettable horror: “YOU‘LL FLOAT, TOO! YOU‘LL FLOAT, TOO!” Also, this iconic phrase is put to good use in Pennywise’s lair in the most impressive visual out of the entire film.
Bottom line is that the drama feels genuine. Moreover, through all the scares Pennywise becomes a wholly new face of terror with Bill Skarsgård behind the makeup and costume. Tim Curry holds his own place in horror history for his vision of King’s menacing, ancient, evil clown. But Skarsgård’s childish take on Pennywise the Dancing Clown instils the character with part of why the novel made him so unsettling. He’s no longer funny, not even in a dark way like Curry. Skarsgård’s clown is child-like in his amusement with the fear he creates(/enjoys/desires), so even when he’s joking around trying to be silly it’s actually just malevolent. Makes it even scarier when he becomes a horrifying, contorted, shapeshifting creature. A marvellous horror performance.
I’ve honestly never watched anything with him in it before. Seeing his talent, particularly in his expressions and facial movements (the eye trick he does is real and not CGI), shows me this is a guy I ought to keep my own eye on.
For me, only having read It just over a month ago, this film has a true charm. From the kids and the real world, human drama their stories bring to Pennywise’s dread, everything fires on all cylinders. Even the change from the late 1950s to the late 1980s works, and possibly opens up the story to newer generations in the process.
There have been a few strange takes amongst the praise. Not everyone has to dig this, when a novel you love comes to screen it won’t always hit the right spots for every fan. How could we possibly expect it to? Through it all there are going to be people disappointed, in some way, shape, or form. To me, It is the best adaptation of Stephen King’s work to date on screen. This is coming from someone who’s watched The Shawshank Redemption 100+ times, I love The Dead Zone, The Shining. I’ll take this one over every last one. Because it gets King and his horror, how his stories read to me, and best of all is the fact the kids are out of this world.
See this one in theatre, in the dark. And you, too, will float.