There’s something special about youthful imagination. The same imagination that inspires childhood aspirations also conjures monsters and boogeymen. The cruel twist is dreaming of one day becoming an astronaut is as fun as believing in monsters is terrifying. Out of this contradiction, we get It, the latest Stephen King novel to get a big-screen adaptation. The story was due for an update. As popular as the 1990 miniseries was, after nearly 30 years, it doesn’t hold up so well. Owing debts to the TV and written iterations, It successfully reimagines this monster tale with more focused narrative, endearing humor, and one scary-ass clown.
King likes to set his stories in fictional Derry, Maine, and this is no exception. The idyllic, late 1980s town seems like a great little place to raise a family — until kids start disappearing. A group of lovable losers come to suspect something sinister is lurking in their town, and they aim to stop it. Whereas the novel and miniseries alternate between the “Losers Club” as kids and as adults, the narrative focus here is all about the kids. This is a welcome change because more time with the kids drives emotional investment in these characters. We have no idea who lives or dies, whether everything or nothing is going to be okay. The danger is real and so is the hope.
Bill Skarsgård wears the clown makeup as Pennywise and is terrifying, if not quite iconic. Nearly three decades later, Tim Curry’s turn as the colorful killer casts a long shadow. In fairness to Skarsgård, scary clowns aren’t as novel in 2017 as they were in 1990. Creepy clowns on social media over the last year or two spent even more of their cultural capital, edging dangerously near cliché at this point. All that notwithstanding, Skarsgård found a winning balance between overt menace and the slippery, even scarier menace that comes with a smile and a laugh. Skarsgård doesn’t have a lot of time onscreen, as is the case with many horror villains, but makes the most of what time he has.
The heart of this film is the kids, without question. The characters are distinct, their chemistry and rapport are infectious, and the dialogue between them feels authentic. Wait a second, small town losers kids on bikes confronting a monster? Sounds like Stranger Things to me. Wait, one of the kids from Stranger Things (Finn Wolfhard) is also in It? As tempting (and obvious) as would be to complain about these similarities, it’s important to remember, there’s no Stranger Things without It. The hit Netflix series is an obvious homage to what was scary in the ‘80s. Kudos to director Andy Muschietti for not running away from the connections, and even embracing them. It also helps that Wolfhard’s performance was consistently charming as a character very different in tone from what audiences might expect.
For all the disappointment that often accompanies reboots, this one bucked the trend. Horror is tricky. Every terrible horror movie I’ve seen crammed two minutes of footage into a trailer good enough to trick me into watching. At this point I expect the disappointment, but hope for the best. King imbued this story, particularly the characters, with a depth that still stands out. The dynamic between brothers Bill (Jaeden Lieberherand) and George (Jackson Robert) tugs my heartstrings hard. The pining and angst of youth are presented here with more sweetness than melodrama, lending an air of reality that makes facing a murderous clown-monster scary as hell.
|Studio:||Stephen King, Gary Dauberman|
|Release Date:||September 8th, 2017|
|Author:||Jason M. Brown|