WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2017)
Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott
You’ll float too…
The big screen adaptation of the monstrous Stephen King novel It has been a long time coming. Originally helmed by Cary Fukunaga, the reins eventually fell to Mama director Andy Muschietti, tasked with the charge of bringing the 1,138-page novel and, of course, Pennywise the Dancing Clown to audiences worldwide
Is Pennywise back to haunt our dreams again?
Yes, yes he is.
Bill Denbrough (Lieberher) is a nice kid. On his sickbed, he has made his young brother George (Scott) a sailboat – the intrepid S.S. Georgie, no less – for him to play with outside in the torrential rain. Donning his yellow rain mac, George excitedly watches his boat sail along the streams that are tickling the kerbside. Ah dang, who put that storm drain there? Poor Georgie watches in horror as his prized ship disappears into the void. There’s no other option left but to peer into the sewers, obviously there won’t be a psychotic shape-shifting clown down there, will there? There is, and it spells bloody curtains for young Georgie.
Eight months later, school’s out for summer in Derry, Maine. Bill and his buddies Richie (Wolfhard), Eddie (Grazer) and Stanley’s (Oleff) break for freedom is interrupted by wired bully Henry Bowers (Hamilton) who intends to brutally pound them all through the summer. Another of Henry’s victims, Ben (Taylor), attempts to escape quietly until he is met by his crush Beverly (Lillis) and turns to awkward puppy-eyed jelly. It turns out Henry is the least of their worries as each one of the kids begins to be haunted by visions of their worst nightmares which eventually manifests into a murderous clown, Pennywise (Skarsgård) – one that reappears every 27 years, and now is that time. Along with Mike Hanlon (Jacobs), the kids band together to create ‘The Losers Club’ – their own protective gang to fight off Pennywise whilst also coming to terms with their own feelings, emotions and transition from children to adults (dodging red balloons, too).
Floating in at a cool 135 minutes, Muschietti had plenty of time available to adapt the novel and, importantly, make his own movie. The pacing is just right, each Loser is allowed their own screentime and to have their individual characterisations fleshed out, as the narrative unfolds at a steady speed. The movie’s escalating opening scene is beautifully played out with the two brothers, time is given to ensure their bond is evident in their short time together before the fateful intro of Pennywise. It’s also near spot on with the novel’s description.
There are scares galore throughout the movie utilising various methods –jump scares, creepy images and psychological horror and when it isn’t Pennywise tormenting the Losers, it’s their suffocating (and abusive...) parents. Also, the coming-of-age aspect of the novel is in full focus throughout, including the famous rock-throwing war, and becomes just as prevalent as the horror element. The visuals look great throughout and the score for the movie is adventurous and menacing all at once. It really drives the movie on and Benjamin Wallfisch should be applauded for this.
The movie's timeline is shifted from the 1950s to the 1980s and adopts a more Amblin-esque visual – it’s a pleasant mix of The Goonies, Stand by Me and E.T. – and the town looks great, it’s a great representation of the ‘80s with its storefronts, classic cars and the selection of movies at the cinema (Batman, Lethal Weapon 2, Nightmare on Elm Street 5). The time shift also allows the planned sequel to take place in the present day.
Child actors. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re awful. Thankfully, in the case of It all of the Losers are brilliant, there isn’t a weak performance and their chemistry is genuine – it seems these kids would be friends in real life, too. Wolfhard is great as foul-mouthed Richie, always there for a quip and Jeremy Ray Taylor delivers the movie's exposition with aplomb, his gentle interactions with Bev are charming. Ben is the heart of the gang and Bill is the soul, Lieberher is the leader and portrays the heavy emotion his character faces over his brother’s death very well.
The 1990 TV mini-series is ingrained in the cultural zeitgeist - the majority of people know it, the VHS front cover and of course, Pennywise the Dancing Clown. That incarnation was played wonderfully by Tim Curry and stepping into the oversized clown shoes in 2017 is Bill Skarsgård. The character has a Freddy Krueger-like quality as he pops up here and there to scare the bejeezus out of the Losers. There’s a childlike quality to him, with stilted dialogue, bulbous cracked head and a drooling mouth just waiting to tear limbs from his victims. It’s a great performance of a child-murdering clown.
There are a few notable amendments from the novel, but nothing that derails the adaptation. Ben is now essentially the narrator, as opposed to Mike who originally had the honour. The nightmarish visions the Losers see have also changed – out are the wolf men and mummies, replaced by headless victims and a terrifying living painting. The leper that haunts Eddie remains (played by Javier Botet who scared the shit out of me in [REC]) as does the bloody sink that explodes in Bev’s face – this time with greater ferocity. Also, Henry and Bev’s stories were amended for the movies ending with varying success. Thankfully, the Losers sex train orgy didn’t make the movie...
The conclusion was the main aspect that saw a change. A few elements were introduced without set-ups (the dead lights) which could potentially be confusing (however, this wasn’t really a negative, too much telling can be unhelpful) and Bev’s story was amended allowing for greater context for her and Ben’s platonic relationship – resulting in what will be a divisive moment among fans and moviegoers. That’s really it for negatives.
Actually, there wasn’t enough Henry! Man, that kid is messed up. His looming influence was stolen by Pennywise, but that’s never a bad thing.
A faithful Stephen King adaptation that works, one that really works, is a feat that should be celebrated and a lot of credit should go to Andy Muschietti (and the combined writing talents of Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman) and the superb ensemble cast. It works as a coming-of-age drama and as a straight up horror movie – combine the two and the result is an exceptional movie that was well worth the wait.
We float too.
September 8th 2017