Directed by Andy Muschietti
UK Release Date: 8th September 2017
Feature Running Time: 135 minutes
During the summer of 1989, a chain of events bring together seven misfit kids labelled as ‘The Losers Club’ as they uncover an evil entity within their town of Derry, Maine, that has been terrorising and murdering children every 27 years by feeding itself off their most deepest fears, mainly in the disguise of Pennywise The Clown…
I may have only just converted myself quite late in life as a dedicated Stephen King fan after deciding to read all of his novels in publication order, which has proven to be quite the reading challenge and alas will take me a few more further years to get through them all, however, I have read plenty of horror during my time and Stephen King’s IT holds solid first place as currently my favourite horror novel of all time. Not only is this King’s biggest book to date I’ve read totalling at a whopping 1,376 pages, but probably the most richest one in scope and detail that I have ever experienced as an avid reader in terms of its extraordinary world building and character development. You spend so much time with these seven kids and care about them so much that you completely fear and plead that nothing bad will ever happen to them whenever they are thrown into the most dangerous and terrifying situations.
Long before reading the novel, like so many other fans, I also have had such fond memories of watching the 1990 miniseries with Tim Curry as Pennywise from my early childhood. It scared the living bejesus out of me as much as the next child, and although it never really instilled me with a fear of clowns, I can honestly see how and why other children would find them so scary. But the miniseries is best left as a distant childhood memory as I made the grave mistake of re-watching it late last year just as I was nearing the end of the novel and well, I can’t say it’s aged all that well. In fact, it hasn’t. Incredibly outdated with some of the poorest acting and a total horrendous adaptation of the original material, this was badly in need of an update and taking it to the big screen this time was really the only right way to go.
Hard to believe that this new re-imagining came from Director Andy Muschietti, whose previous film Mama that I only got around to watching a few days before, wasn’t something in the horror genre that I was completely won over by. Mainly let down by its watered down Hollywood ending, the film wasn’t completely without merit as it proved Muschietti had a really good eye for detail when it came to visual effects. This is probably what got him the gig as replacement director from Cary Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation) after he walked away due to clashes of creative differences with the studio.
Still working from the screenplay originally co-written by Fukunaga, Muschietti really steps up his game here with King’s source material in what is only his second full-length feature. Not only are the visuals, make-up and costume design totally top notch but I would even hail this as one of the best King adaptations I’ve seen that deserves a rightful place next to the likes of The Dead Zone, Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption. Muschietti just ‘gets’ the material straight away, he knows what makes the book scary and why we should care about the losers club and how to work around what would be the best way to successfully transcend all of this to the big screen. Absolutely terrifying in places when it needs to be while hilarious, heartwarming and uplifting in others, what was merely rushed and skimmed over or just completely cut from the miniseries, Muschietti is smart enough to take all of the most key important and pivotal scenes from the novel and treat them with the utmost respect by giving them the careful precision and immaculate detail that it so deserves when bringing this story to life. Of course, he couldn’t include everything but he made the best possible effort and that was good enough for a fan like myself. There were some subtle changes that just had to be made as a way of connecting with a more modern day target film audience. The main one being the time shift from the book being set in the 50s to this film taking place in the late 80s. In the book, IT manifests into various forms when feeding off the children’s fears and these consisted of classic literary monster characters that also frightened King as a child which included Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolf man. In today’s horror standards, none of these creatures are at all scary to moviegoers anymore so this movie does something a little bit different in relation to that. To say what that is would spoil the surprise but what I can say is that it works really well in the context of this adaptation and as a result, the main essence of the book is finally realised.
Moving on to the main ensemble cast, this movie would have completely fallen apart and crumbled to the ground if the actors weren’t believable enough in their respective roles. Thankfully though, we’re given such an intelligent and smart young cast that share such a great chemistry with each other that works like absolute magic. Their relationships and their personal journeys from beginning to end is what is held as the most important backbone of the story. Not an easy accomplishment by any means for audiences to care about the characters in the film as much as they have with the characters in the book but that’s just what has happened here. It’s all about trust, collaboration and hard teamwork, you just know that these kid actors bonded and related so well with one another during the making of the film and it really shows. The comparisons already made to that of Stranger Things is confirmed as true but it doesn’t stop there, I could easily make other comparisons with The Goonies and Super 8, which again works well with the time setting of this film as all three mentioned fit in so perfectly within 80s nostalgic love. Admittedly, there was only two cast members that I really knew – Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame and Jaeden Lieberher who really impressed me with his leading role in Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special (2016). Having these two actors who have already had experience working on films/TV shows that is inspired by popular culture of that era being cast in this surely must have made them feel right at home.
Now we come to Bill Skarsgard’s interpretation of the infamous children eating clown that is the absolute revelation of the film. A lot of people have said that Tim Curry was the only best thing about the miniseries and having now read the novel, I have to strongly disagree. As good of an effort Curry put in, it wasn’t anything like the Pennywise that King originally created and visualised. Skarsgard never copies and/or takes inspiration from Curry’s version, instead he makes it his own while also keeping this evil character much more true to that in the novel. One of the greatest tricks that an actor can pull off is making you really believe that he is that character and not just an actor playing that role. That’s exactly how I feel what I got from this actor’s performance, that I really was seeing a murderous clown before me. It was a complete transformation and high praise must be given to Skarsgard for his impressive work here. I really like how he was used sparingly as a Freddy Krueger type of dreamlike character as he invades the fears of the losers club whenever they least expect it while at their most vulnerable. The film also teases this when we are shown the moment when Bill Denbrough (Lieberher) enters a cinema with ‘Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5’ being displayed as a current film showing across its billboard.
Hopefully Skarsgard’s execution of Pennywise will now put all the naysayers in their place when they claimed that Tim Curry’s version towers over because he doesn’t look scary and apparently isn’t supposed to look at all frightening either. Clearly, these are the kind of fans who have never read the book in their lives as he’s intended to be the stuff made of your worst nightmares. It’s the sole reason why King chose to have a clown placed as its central antagonist as he wracked his brains to what it was that scared children the most. Pennywise The Clown is the answer. It’s SUPPOSED to look terrifying!
I knew before going in to see this new version of IT that I was undoubtedly going to love it but I never thought I’d ever say that this film could very well be considered as a serious contender for Best Picture come next year’s Oscars. I’ve already mentioned how good the make-up effects and costume design is but the cinematography and composed score are also incredibly astounding in equal measure.
I’m now worried that Blade Runner 2049 and Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi that are both released later this year have a lot to live up to and top because as it currently stands, IT is now my favourite #1 film of the year. Unmissable.