2017’s It is very Stephen King. It contains shocking violence, horror, gore, and a surprisingly heartfelt coming of age story. It tells the story of Derry, Maine, a town that, as far back as anyone can remember, has experienced strange disappearances and murders every twenty-seven years. The film starts in 1988, and after a surprisingly brutal scene shows us what’s in store, we flash forward to the following summer, where Bill, following the disappearance of his brother, believes he’s still out there somewhere. With the help of his newfound friends, or as they refer to themselves in the novel, the Loser’s Club, Bill goes searching for It. Whatever It is. He and his friends are going to finally end Its reign on Derry.
While the violence and horror don’t hold anything back, there’s a surprising amount of humor well placed throughout the movie’s two hours and fifteen-minute runtime. These seven children feel like real characters, rather that stereotypical archetypes. As the film goes on, we realize that, while it’s a story of fear and horror, it’s equally, if not more so, about these seven children and their loss of innocence throughout this one particularly horrible summer. The vibe is sometimes similar to Stand by Me, which was also written by Stephen King. Director Andy Muschietti is able to delicately balance the many different tones. The jokes never feel forced or out of place; these preteens are scared and are using their humor as a desperate form of defense. The screenplay, which went through countless drafts throughout the years, is credited to Chase Palmer, True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga (who was originally set to direct, but dropped out due to “creative differences”) and Gary Dauberman. All three deserve immense praise, considering what a task adapting an 1100 page book must be. They provided us with an adaptation that, while being faithful to the source material, was able to still slightly subvert reader’s expectations so that, whether you read Stephen King’s It or not, there would still be a scare or two you weren’t anticipating.
As you’ve probably seen from the advertisements, the form It takes most often is that of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (whose “dance moves” if you could call it that, we briefly see in a segment that walks the line between humorous and horrific). In the 90s miniseries of It, Tim Curry played the character as a sarcastic, deranged clown, but underneath the circus makeup, there seemed to be this disdain to him. In the new version of It, Bill Skarsgård (brother of Tarzan, Alexander Skarsgård and son of Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård) plays Pennywise closer to how Stephen King described him in the book. It’s not a clown, but some sort of cosmic being that takes the shape of the clown to scare and eventually eat the children. Because of this, Pennywise seems otherworldly. He doesn’t have the signature “Hiya Georgie” accent Curry made iconic. Rather, he speaks like something trying to mimic human speech. Additionally, where Tim Curry’s Pennywise looked like a clown you’d find at a typical fair, Skarsgard’s looks like a clown from the renaissance age. While it’s slightly less recognizable and relatable than the classic Pennywise, this new incarnation blends CGI perfectly, we don’t know where Skarsgård ends and where Pennywise begins. In following the source material, Pennywise isn’t the only form It takes. I won’t spoil it, but he manifests himself in each of the children’s worst fears, which makes for surprising and sometimes terrifying sequences.
While Pennywise, as well as Its other incarnations are honestly really scary, the surprising part of this movie was that the human characters were oftentimes equally, if not more scary than the supernatural elements. Almost all of the adults we see seem slightly off, if not outright creepy. This could be a representation of the children’s point of view as they don’t seem to have any positive relationships with adults. More likely, however, is the idea that It has been coming to Derry every twenty-seven years, so the town’s adults were, at one point, the town’s children and have learned to turn a blind eye to the mass murders. The bullies are also ruthless, violent, and mostly unpunished by anyone but Pennywise. The lack of authority figures helps solidify the group of seven children and keeps the stakes high. If they’re not dealing with It, they have to worry about creepy adults and violent, knife-wielding bullies.
The film’s cinematographer, longtime Chan-wook Park collaborator Chung-hoon Chung, shoots the movie effectively, using greys and muted colors to convey dread and contrast the brightness of not only the signature balloons, but also of what should be a lovely summer vacation for these characters. The whole town of Derry feels very real. At times picturesque, and at times grotesque, Derry seems like the kind of town you’d expect to find hidden away in New England.
It focuses solely on the Losers Club as children, rather than shifting perspectives from children to their adult selves, as in King’s novel and the 1990 miniseries. This allows for a deeper connection and emotional investment in these kid’s journey. While the story of It feels as though it could work as a standalone film, a sequel has already been greenlit for 2019. After watching It, I can’t think of a more faithful adaptation to a novel, nor can I name a better crafted horror film in recent memory. Anyone with an interest in horror, psychological manipulation, or coming of age stories, should certainly check out It.
Montclair State | New Jersey