Float away with Pennywise once more in Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of Stephen King’s It
When Bill’s brother goes missing one day in October, nothing could prepare him or his friends for the terror they would have to face to discover his whereabouts.Stephen King has been a prolific writer for many, many years now and has had most of his books and short stories adapted for the screen, many which have been mildly disappointing while others (Stand By Me and Creepshow are two of my all time faves) have been thoroughly enjoyable. So when King’s 1986 novel It was made into a TV mini-series in 1990, starring Tim Curry as the evil clown Pennywise, it didn’t quite manage to live up to expectations, feeling drawn out in places and playing it a little bit to safe in others, despite it being reasonably enjoyable for the most part. Now, 27 years later director Andy Muschietti (Mama) along with writers Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman have had another stab at bringing that terrifying dancing clown Pennywise back to the big screen.
As with all of Stephen King’s stories, this tale of terror takes place in the US state of Maine, in the small town of Derry to be precise, and is set this time in 1980s - which adds a slightly more relatable level of nostalgia to the film versus the 1950s setting of the book. The film plays up to this 80s setting from cleverly placed film posters in the bedroom of Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) to the latest movies playing at the local cinema. Derry has been plagued with tragedy for many years, going right back to the founding fathers, with various disasters and numerous unexplained disappearances, predominantly young children, dating back just as far. And it’s when Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), the little brother of Bill goes missing that the film kicks off.
With all the adults apparently turning a blind eye to the alarming number of missing children (even Bill’s parents are quick to accept the disappearance of Georgie) Bill takes it upon himself to investigate the whereabouts of his brother. Helping Bill on his quest are his band of brothers, and sister, the self labeled ‘Losers’ Club’ - seven outsiders who all form a bond over the events that unfold over the summer of ’89. The club is made up of seven very different characters; Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is the plump new kid at school who has a secret love for The New Kids On The Block; Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) is the rebellious one who holds the affection of each of the boys, Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) is the smart mouthed comedian of the bunch; Mike ‘home schooled’ Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) who works with his grandfather out of town; the asthmatic hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer); and the son of a Rabbi Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff).
It comes as no surprise at all that Bill’s parents seem unfazed by the disappearance of their youngest son, as most of the adults and parents are shown to be somewhat sinister in one way or another, from hints of sexual abuse in the March household to the overbearing motherly love in the Kaspbrak home - even the police officer father of the local bully, is a bully. And so without parental guidance or adult supervision it falls to our seven young heroes to save the day as they each become the focus for the cause behind the unusually high number of vanished children - Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård). Preying on each of them by playing out their deepest fears Pennywise delivers a number of heart pounding scenarios of each of our Losers. But reasonably undeterred, determined to face their fears and with strength in numbers they battle through, committed to finding the clown’s lair and finally uncover Derry’s deep, dark secret that has for so long been ignored.
This remake definitely supersedes the original – in every way
Unlike the 1990’s adaptation, Muschietti’s film runs in linear chronological order, focusing on the children during the summer that they were forced to face their fears. This works so much better than the mini-series as it enables each of the characters to be fully developed and gives us, the audience, a chance to get to know them, get behind them and get emotionally involved. Despite it’s running time of just over two hours it doesn’t fall victim to feeling drawn out. The script is razor sharp and witty throughout and had me laughing out loud on several occasions without taking anything away from the dark and sinister elements of the film, of which there are plenty. Where the first adaptation felt cautious, conservative and somewhat afraid to really go to town on the horror/violent aspects of the novel, Muschietti’s version does not shy away and successfully goes that bit further to show the horrors that lie within and beneath Derry, all without being overkill. He has also been careful not to over use Skarsgård’s take on Pennywise abiding by the less is more mentality.
That said, there are some genuinely stand out CG moments that almost blur the lines between real and fake using varying degrees of depth to make what was a 2D scene feel like 3D. Similarly the bathroom sink scene - of which I am sure most are familiar with - goes even further to push the boundaries when it comes to showing what It is capable of, as it the case with most of the children’s fears to be quite honest. Equally, Muschietti has mustered up that same feeling and emotion that could be so vividly felt in Stand By Me, the simple enjoyment of kids riding bikes during the summer holidays - also familiar in Stranger Things. On the other hand much of the terror does come from those predictable jump scares and typical horror tropes using music to amplify the scares on some occasions, but this is in no way a detriment to the film and the special effects more than make up for any predictability.
The acting throughout is superb and each one of the children brings their own quality to the film in an almost effortless manner. A real stand out for me though was Finn Wolfhard (who is also in Stranger Things) who seemed to deliver each one of his lines with the greatest of ease. There was not one point during the whole film when any of the club felt annoying or irritating. It did feel at times that Mike and Stanley’s characters weren’t given as much screen time as the others, but upon reflection, I think that is in part to do with just how much is actually packed into this film. Skarsgård makes Curry’s Pennywise seem like a distant memory as his plays the role with a playful eerie creepiness while Curry’s, looking back, was more camp than scary.
When it comes to remakes or re-visions of old films I often find myself asking why? But as the original 1990 It felt very restrained and safe there really was room for potential with this adaptation. It is extremely watchable and enjoyable, with such a superb cast that Muschietti couldn’t go far wrong. There’s loads of swearing, the odd mum joke here and there, barrels of blood and a terrifying clown – all without the supremely disappointing ending from the 1990s adaptation; in fact this ending even leaves room for a welcome second chapter just like the original novel.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.