Stephen King’s It is a master class in horror fiction. The original novel isn’t only terrifying, but it’s also a beautiful coming-of-age story, complete with interesting characters and heartwarming moments. That’s why the tale is still popular after 31 years. It’s not because of the scary clown; it’s because it’s relatable. That’s what great horror needs to do first and foremost: tell an interesting story. The clown is just icing on the cake. So how well does director Andrés Muschietti’s new film adapt this classic? Will diehard King fans be happy, or is this another adaptation to throw in the “meh” pile?
Well first we need to remember what It is supposed to be about. Again, it’s not just a scary clown story. It’s a story about 7 kids, the “Loser’s Club,” coming together to fight Fear incarnate. King’s novel is about friendship, about the power of hope and belief, and about being stronger as a team than as an individual. Most importantly, it’s about facing and conquering fear. And, in the process of telling this moving story about maturing from children into adults, it’s supposed to scare the shit out of you.
As far as terror goes, this flick delivers. Muschietti creates this grim and gritty atmosphere that fills you with a sense of dread. The camerawork by D.P. Chung-hoon Chung then amplifies it by ten, mixing in Dutch angles and funky movements that disorient you and put you on edge. This isn’t a horror film that relies on jump scares either. It utilizes them, obviously, but it’s more about creating an uneasy tone, which is a King trademark. He’s a novelist, so he can’t rely on jump scares to spook his reader. He has to do it on a deeper level, and any adaptation of his work worth its salt has to reflect that.
Bill Skarsgård is haunting as Pennywise the Dancing Clown as well. He plays the character in a much different way than Tim Curry did for the 1990 TV movie. Skarsgård’s Pennywise is much more monstrous than playful. He has a guttural, growly undertone to everything he says, and he feels savage while remaining somewhat humorous. The performance is fresh and original, and yet still feels familiar to the Pennywise we know from the book.
Now, with the scary clown element out of the way, how does the rest of It (2017) hold up? Does it stay true to the heart of the 1986 story? Thankfully, yes, it very much does. They admittedly take a lot of liberties with some plot details, but the core and the spirit of It perseveres. Everything mentioned earlier, the themes of friendship and inner strength, it’s all here. Muschietti’s film is first and foremost a coming-of-age story, just like it’s supposed to be. Everyone over the age of 15 should find something to relate to, whether it’s having a crush, getting bullied, going through puberty, or just hanging out with your friends.
The Loser’s Club is front-and-center, and that’s this movie’s greatest strength. The kids are likable, and the chemistry between them is phenomenal. It feels like they’ve been friends all their lives. The script by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman has a lot to do with that, but the performances from these young actors is what truly sells it. You never know what you’re going to get with child actors, but these kids (or rather pre-teens) are pros. Even non-Losers like bully Henry Bowers, played by Nicholas Hamilton, give a memorable turn.
Granted, some of these kids get more development than others. That’s to be expected when you have an ensemble cast and are trying to fit a 1000+ page book into a 2 hour movie. But again the filmmakers find a way to make it work. Characters like Stanley and Mike may not get as much to do as Bill or Beverly, but you still get a perfect sense of their character.
The Bottom Line – It (2017)
This is how you do an adaptation. You take a story’s basic structure, change some general stuff to make it feel fresh, and keep the heart of the original. Stephen King fans, don’t fret. Thanks to great writing and even greater acting, Muschietti’s It joins the annals of strong King movies like Misery or Stand By Me.