Film adaptations of Stephen King’s horror novels have always been hit or miss. While there have been a handful of great ones like The Mist, Misery, Christine, and most notably Kubrick’s The Shining, there have been almost as many bad as there have been good. I would have to say that more recently we have seen poor adaptations from his novels which, whether you like them or not, typically have some truly terrific material in them. While his work has been famously changed in the best adaptations (The Shining, The Mist), it has enriched the story each time. As if I’m not mentioning it enough, please check out Frank Darabont’s The Mist, the ending Darabont changed is what makes that film unforgettable.
While we have already seen a television mini-series of Stephen King’s IT, that series has always had a great handful of problems. No matter how much Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown killed it in nearly every scene he was in, the character’s design was never really that frightening. Director Andy Muschietti (of 2013’s underrated horror flick, Mama) and his team of writers have solved those problems. Adapting from a nearly 1,200 page novel, they have chosen to streamline the story and remove a good deal of subplots that were either goofy or didn’t need to be there in the first place. The fact that this story takes place over roughly 27 years necessitates they break it up into two parts, with one part focusing on our protagonists as children in the late ’80s (changed from the 1950s in the book) and chapter two continuing in the modern day. I honestly can’t wait to see what happens in the continuation, but for now let’s talk about Chapter 1.
Director Muschietti takes the tone of the film and turns it into a very R-rated and truly terrifying version of The Goonies. After a string of children begin to disappear in the town of Derry, a group of kids venture out during their summer vacation to look for the lost brother of one of their friends. Each of the kids have a frightening encounter with a demonic clown named Pennywise. Believing this clown is the reason for all of the disappearances, they band together to defeat him and find the missing children. Throw in some 1980s nostalgia, a game cast of youngsters, effective direction, and a showstopper of a scene involving a projector – and you have a really fun (if often scary) time at the movies.
The first half of the film introduces us to the main characters and shows us each encounter with Pennywise and, while often tense and creepy, it is my only real problem with the film as it can become a bit repetitive. While each encounter is different enough to stand on its own, there is a sequence of anticipation leading up to each one that may not hold up on repeat viewings. That being said, for a cast that’s 90% young teenagers,each one is spectacular and you quickly forget we only see a few adults throughout the film. As for Pennywise, I can say that Bill Skarsgard absolutely knocks it out of the park. He nails his introductory scene with Georgie in the sewer, with the vast amount of tension and terror coming solely from his performance. Pennywise is not a character you look forward to seeing on screen, but Skarsgard gives him a real joyful menace that injects a shot of energy into IT when you‘re not hiding your eyes.
Overall, this is easily one of the better horror films to come out in the past decade. IT is very rewatchable because we get to follow a group of likeable kids on a Stranger Things-type adventure that just happens to be horrifying. For Muschietti and company, they focus on the characters as much as the scares. Stephen King has written a great story and it’s finally been given its due.
Rating: R for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language
Runtime: 2 hours, 15 minutes