It (2017 Movie Review)

For fifty years Stephen King’s stories have shocked, awed, and terrified readers. However, many of his best works didn’t become famous until they were adapted for film and TV. His most iconic horror novel, It, is no exception. Originally published in 1986, it was adapted into a TV miniseries by Warner Bros. in 1990. The series was praised for the performances of its child cast and, especially, for Tim Curry’s performance as the evil clown Pennywise - but it was mild compared to the book… and child’s play compared to the film I’m going to talk about. Twenty-seven years after the series aired, Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema have made a new version of It directed by Andy Muschietti (writer and director of Mama). It’s been a long time coming, having lurked in development hell for seven years - but the film’s made a strong impression worldwide, with King himself saying “he was not prepared for how good it really was”. Now It’s out in the UK, and I went to see it on opening day to see how it measures up.
Like the book before it, the film takes place in Derry, Maine, and starts with a paper boat floating down a gutter swollen with rain. The boat’s owner, six-year-old Georgie Denbrough (played by Jackson Robert Scott), is attacked while playing with it on a rainy afternoon and disappears. The next summer, his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) sets out to find his attacker. Bill is joined in his search by six other kids from around Derry: Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), Eddie Kasprak (Dylan Grazer), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff), and Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). Drawn together by unhappy family lives and local bullies, Bill and his friends band together to face a much worse threat: a monster that has preyed on the children of Derry for centuries. It takes many forms - always changing to reflect their worst fears - but It’s best known to its victims as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård). And, despite the name, dancing is the last thing on its mind.
Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear: It isn’t a remake of the 1990 miniseries. Instead, it’s a new adaptation that strikes a balance between being faithful to the book and doing something new. The setting has changed from 1958 to 1989, and unlike previous versions of the story, the film focusses solely on Bill and his friends’ childhood years. This may put people off, but the changes actually work in the film’s favour. The book is over a thousand pages long and essentially two stories in one; it would’ve been impossible to adapt it all into one film. Thankfully, Muschietti decided to make two films - and the changes he’s made in Chapter One have all been for the right reasons. The newer setting allows people new to the story to immerse themselves in it more easily, and allows Muschietti to use new scares to keep fans of the book on their toes. In any case, fans will be pleased to find that Bill and his friends - the Losers’ Club - are still Losers. The film spends a lot of time fleshing them out as the book does, including the horrors they face at the hands of the people around them as well as Pennywise. The Losers face bullies, domestic abuse, manipulative parents, and the harsh realities of growing up throughout the film’s two-hour length - and the young ensemble that plays them are more than up to the task. Lieberher and co. give great performances as the Losers. They play, joke, and fight with each other as children do in real life; and when things get tough they pull together as only true friends can. However, as so often happens with ensemble casts, some characters get less attention than others. Mike (Jacobs) and Stan (Oleff) are the worst hit, but they still get the screentime they need to avoid being pushed to the sidelines. You will believe in them as much as you will in the other Losers - and when the horrors of Derry rear their ugly heads, you’ll want them to win. This is both true to the novel and a huge advantage over most horror films today - the Losers aren’t meat for the grinder, but living, breathing people you’ll believe in and care for.
Tim Curry’s Pennywise was the highlight of 1990’s version of It, but to compare his performance with Bill Skarsgård’s is the same as comparing Jack Nicholson’s Joker with Heath Ledger’s. Skarsgård is in a league of his own. Through a mix of practical makeup and CGI, he brings the Pennywise of King’s novel to terrifying life. He’ll still make you laugh occasionally, but the rest of the time his goal is to wreak terror, and feed on the flesh and fear of children. Skarsgård does so to chilling effect, helped by his height (he’s 6ft 4in in real life!) and natural ability to look in two directions at once. He also does more than scaring kids in his clown form; true to the book, the new Pennywise changes his shape to tap into his victims’ worst fears. In the book and miniseries, he mainly changed into monsters from the 1950s, e.g. Michael Landon’s Teenage Werewolf. In the film, however, you won’t see him change into Freddy Krueger. Instead, Muschietti has created new forms for Pennywise that draw on the Losers’ personal fears. Disease, parental abuse, racism, and even everyday objects are just four of the things he uses, and they’re all things children fear in real life. For me, this makes Skarsgård’s Pennywise even more terrifying. The only downside is that the CGI shots are hit-and-miss; some are far more convincing than others.
Muschietti’s decision to adapt It into two films allows him to take Chapter One into much darker territory than the miniseries - but it may be too intense for some viewers. The film is rated R in America (15 in the UK) for strong violence and language; from the beginning, children are attacked in graphic detail and everyone - even the Losers’ Club - swears throughout. While true to Stephen King’s work, the sight of children being bitten, clawed, and even shot to death may be too much for some people. Thankfully, there are some scenes in the book even an R-rated film couldn’t get away with, and Muschietti has wisely left them out. You won’t notice their absence if you’ve never read the book, but if you have you’ll know exactly which scenes are gone; and you’ll be glad for it. Of course, the film’s final act had to be changed dramatically - but it’s all to the good for the end result. Before the credits roll, you will seethe, cringe, cheer, jump, and finally cry as the Losers face their demons above and below Derry. It's a far more satisfying end than the miniseries', and one that will leave you eager to find out what comes next. Fortunately, with the film's warm welcome and its success at the box office (it's made nearly $210 million at the time of writing), the fate of Chapter Two's all but assured.
It: Chapter One is neither a remake of the 1990 series nor a strict retelling of the book - but it needed to be neither. All it had to be was a film about more than just a killer clown, and Andy Muschietti has made just that. It's horror with a heart. Stephen King has the right to be proud.

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