Director: Andy Muschetti
Writers: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman
Stars: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs
In the town of Derry, Maine, the children are disappearing. After his six-year-old brother, Georgie, vanishes, in a manner only the audience sees, Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) attempts to move on, preparing for summer break with his friends, affectionately named “The Losers Club,” which includes Richie (Finn Wolfhard), who is never lacking a “your mom” or dick joke; Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), a hyper hypochondriac; and Stan (Wyatt Oleff), whose only concern is preparing for his bar mitzvah.
In short order, the club expands to include new kid, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and home-schooled, Mike (Chosen Jacobs), both of whom are indoctrinated after being rescued, separately, from getting beaten by local bully, Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), and his gang. Perhaps the best addition is that of the brazen Beverly (Sophia Lillis). The victim of heinous rumors and an even more deplorable home life, Bev rejects the trappings of femininity to hang with the boys and they aren’t complaining.
As more children go missing, Bill starts to ask questions and holds out hope that they will find Georgie. What they do find feeds on their deepest fears and that is Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).
There has been a collective fear within the horror community for the last several years since Warner Brothers first announced there would be a retelling of Stephen King’s IT. It seems the fear wasn’t so much that the studio was messing with a classic because, let’s face it, the 1990 TV mini-series isn’t great, but folks were raging over replacing Tim Curry as Pennywise. As time went on and the directors and actors changed for various reasons, IT seemed destined for failure. To be fair, King’s source material is tough to adapt to screen, no matter what it is and no matter who directs it (I’m looking at you, The Shining), but IT? The novel spans 1138 pages, three decades, multiple main characters, and complicated interwoven storylines. If a six hour mini-series can’t deliver, how can a two hour feature film?
Put your fears to rest. IT delivers.
Naturally, certain things have been updated and some creative liberties have been taken, but those changes only enhance the experience. The film version of IT takes place in the late 80s, a 30 year time hop from the novel, and those who grew up in the 80s will appreciate this adjustment, from the pop-culture references to the soundtrack. Another brilliant move was to contain the film to the childhood sections of the novel, allowing it to focus on one time period, rather than rely on flashbacks to tell the story. While we’re talking about the children, this ensemble cast is outstanding. They deliver such strong, individualized performances beyond their years, making their characters memorable. If you’re a fan of Stranger Things, you’ll recognize Finn Wolfhard and you’ll love him even more after his turn as Richie. Normally, constant wise-cracking would get old after 30 minutes, but this kid’s timing and delivery is such that each zinger feels like the first one and you can’t help but laugh, even in the darkest moments. Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor and Sophia Lillis, who is the breakout star of the film, have the added difficulty of acting out a teenage love triangle, which is handled with tremendous care and sensitivity by director, Muschetti. The only real character fails are with Stan and Mike. For those familiar with the book, these characters are integral, but here they are used so superfluously, the story would have been just as engaging without them.
This really is the kids’ film. Adults are used sparingly and those we do see are nothing short of monsters themselves, providing the initial fear that manifests into the terror Pennywise feeds off of.
And now, in the center ring, Pennywise the Dancing Clown! People will jump to compare Bill Skarsgård’s performance to Tim Curry’s, but that’s like comparing apples to oranges. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of Curry’s Pennywise. He was just too corny. Skarsgård, on the other hand, is downright terrifying. There is immediate unease from the first glimpse and it just escalates from there. Granted, there are some instances when he’s just overused, but that’s not Skarsgård’s fault.
IT isn’t a perfect film, by any stretch of the imagination, but the complaints are nit-picky and minimal so they’re not worth mentioning.
It’s nearly impossible for me, as a die-hard Stephen King fan, to look at this film without a personal lens and I’m here to say, this is the King adaptation I’ve been waiting for. It captures the warmth and coming-of-age nostalgia in Stand by Me, but it’s scary. IT is really scary.
Suzanne Bell | Twitter: @imyourarsonist