Within the last few years, the Stephen King adaptations that have graced the big screen have received on-and-off reception from both critics and audiences. 2017 looked to be the potential year to bring people back to loving the big screen tellings, similar to The Shining or The Shawshank Redemption.
After the flop that was Nikolaj Arcel’s The Dark Tower from this past August, there was a lot riding on the shoulders of It, which has been adapted in the form of a two-part miniseries that ran back in 1990. With reboots and remakes not receiving strong attention, the hype for It was different, as the trailers showcased what lacked in the miniseries: fear and terror.
Helmed by Mama director Andrés Muschietti, It follows a group of kids known as The Losers’ Club in 1989 Derry, Maine, as they are battling a shapeshifting demon, taking the appearance of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). The film takes the bold move of focusing on the characters and storyline, rather than the thrills. However, I will point out that It showcases some of the best thrills in years and after a pretty low-ball year of quality mainstream horror, this has reached the heights of Split and Get Out.
Muschietti does a phenomenal job blending the terror that King utilized brilliantly in his 1000+ page novel, with a sense of adolescence and the beautiful bond of friendship. I adore the Stand By Me-like camaraderie between The Losers’ Club, as each kid had their moment to shine and the right amount of development. Sophia Lillis’ playing Beverly Marsh was the film’s standout, as her story dealt with one of the more tragic looks at child abuse I’ve seen depicted on screen in recent memory. However that doesn’t change the fact that there was no weakling in the young cast.
Something that is also remarkable about It’s filmmaking is how it feels 1980s. That may sound like a foolish statement, but It feels like it was shot in that decade with a strong blend of practical effects and the crappy CGI you would see in the low-budget horror flicks from that decade. Some audience members will be thrown off by that technique, but I thought it was handled extremely well and looked to be Muschietti’s intentions. Most filmmakers would try to focus on the CGI use in modern horror than practical, but lately, few filmmakers appreciate the old-school feeling to horror films, which is definitely a refreshing feeling. The makeup on Pennywise does deserve a lot of credit as well and we could potentially see a Best Makeup nomination come at this year’s Oscars.
How about Bill Skarsgård as the iconic dancing clown? He was creepy and filled with humor mirrored Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as “The Joker”. While the screen time of Pennywise was minimal, it was definitely haunting and exciting. Skarsgård didn’t bring as much fear as I thought he would, but he clearly had a blast playing the infamous Stephen King-written character. Similar to Pennywise’s portrayal, It wasn’t as terrifying as I anticipated to be, but it definitely had a strong amount of suspense from start to finish. The mix of humor and heart was also really unique and made the film a lot stronger, as the screenplay was one of my favorites in a mainstream release of this year. The film’s pacing was also handled perfectly, as the 135-minute running time was worth it and while It didn’t require a long running time, everything felt fast-paced and that was a huge fear I had when walking into this film.
In the end, the long awaited big-screen adaptation of It did not disappoint whatsoever. While the scares weren’t as high-octane as one could have hoped for, the terror still had a strong presence throughout. Anchored by phenomenal performances across the board and wonderfully handled storytelling, I am excited to see where Muschietti takes the remainder of the It storyline in the second part which will grace our eyes in a few years. This is one of the better horror films I have seen in years and it is one that won’t be viewed by me only once. It is that good, ladies and gentlemen!