A terrifying and joyous adaptation of King’s classic novel, IT is among the very best adaptations of his work and one of the best movies of the year.
Childhood is a time of growth, innocence, and fun. It’s also fucking terrifying. Stephen King captured that dissonance perfectly in his 1985 classic novel “It”, and the new film is just about everything you could ask for in an adaptation.
It is the story of a small Maine town that happens to be the home and feeding ground of an ancient evil presence, and the group of kids who comes together to face it. A simple enough set up that plays beautifully, because kids always view the town they grow up in with a different eye than the adults living there. Everything is important and earth-shattering when you’re 11, and in the case of The Losers Club’s experiences in Derry… they are right.
The movie opens, as the book does, with two brothers Bill and Georgie on a stormy day bonding over the construction of a paper boat. It’s a delicate and sweet moment that immediately sells the love between these two, and makes the horror that comes soon after all the more effective. Their parents are there but are distracted with grown up things, their presence barely felt. That is fully intentional.
Director Andy Muschietti handles these sweet and fun moments almost better than he does the horrifying ones, and he’s no slouch in the scare department. His ability to deftly and efficiently communicate the relationships, anxieties, and fears of each of the kids is a perfect fit to the material.
A movie like this lives and dies on the ensemble of young actors the filmmakers assemble. Fortunately, they put together one of the best young ensembles in years. Every last one of them is fantastic and a star in the making. Especially impressive are Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, and Jack Dylan Grazer as Bev Marsh, Ben Hanscom, and Eddie Kaspbrak respectively.
Each of them is a natural and gifted performer, who don’t seem as if they’re acting. They completely sell themselves as these characters. Taylor projects the innate sweetness and loneliness of Ben so well that I wanted to reach through the screen and hug the kid. While Lillis gives Bev the same charm and strength that King did in the book, and she has fantastic presence.
Almost as important as the casting of the Losers Club, is the casting of Pennywise and Bill Skarsgård gives an always unsettling, occasionally darkly funny, performances as It. He slips from friendly clown to horrifying nightmare creature subtly, and it pays off immensely.
While a deeply faithful adaptation for the most part, It makes a few departures from the novel. Most of them work very well. As screenwriters Cary Fukunaga & Chase Palmer, and Gary Dauberman do a great job of streamlining the narrative (which is a must when translating a 1,200 page book to the screen) and even enhancing it in some places.
There is a very infamous part of the climax to King’s novel that will never be adapted, and it’s for the best. It’s an unnecessary and gross misstep in an otherwise masterful story. But in an effort to skirt that pivotal (but, again, gross) scene, they end up shortchanging one of the characters’ arcs for awhile in the third act. Though it’s something that can easily be made up for in the sequel.
The movie isn’t as oppressively scary as I thought it would be, but there are several stretches that are scarier than any big studio horror film this side of The Conjuring. The most terrifying sections of the book are also the most terrifying sections of the movie. The creature designs are all seriously well done and horrifying, especially when looked at through a child’s eyes. And, as is more important for this particular story, the sense of unease and dread in Derry is exceptional. The town feels… wrong. From the very first scene, you can tell that something very rotten is at the core of this community. Muschietti populates the background of shots with unsettling details, ensuring that repeat viewings will be rewarded.
It is truly one of the very best film adaptations of King’s work, ranked easily alongside Carrie, Stand By Me, and Christine as being excellent films that capture the voice and tone of his writing. This is the film version of “It” fans of the book have been waiting for.