There are sure to be a lot of divided opinions in the next few weeks about which adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 horror classic is better. The television mini series from 1990 receives a tremendous amount of nostalgic love, particularly when it comes to the performance of Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. I’m here to tell you now, that mini series is not nearly as good as you remember, it really doesn’t hold up, and the 2017 adaptation feels less like a remake, and more like a genuine attempt to adapt King’s book again. The resulting film this time around is, well, it’s just all around a better movie.
Lets start where it seems like it will be the most important, Pennywise himself. While Tim Curry’s turn at the character is charming, goofy, and (I suppose) iconic, the character isn’t particularly scary. He feels like more of an irritation than a threat, and it becomes impossible to find him scary, especially 27 years after the fact. You can put this down to “being from the 90’s” or “being a TV movie” but that doesn’t change the fact that as horror movie monsters go, he’s not really the scariest we’ve seen. Bill Skarsgård, on the other hand, turns in a genuinely frightening turn as Pennywise. It feels like comparing two different characters from two different films, but we’re talking about a horror movie here, and the new Pennywise is just a scarier monster. When we are introduced to him in the film, just looking at the way he drools at Georgie is very unsettling, and sets a high bar as well.
The other place this movie shines is with the cast of characters making up the Losers Club. After the it was established by Stranger Things that kids can, not only give excellent performances, but also can be written as actual children instead of miniature adults, it was almost mandatory that IT meet the same mark, or exceed it, if it was going to work at all, and it absolutely did. The cast here is just excellent, and includes Stranger Things alum Finn Wolfhard as the oh-so-obnoxious Richie Tozier. You’ve also got stand out performances from Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben, Sophia Lillis as Beverly, and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie. The rest of the kids are great as well, Jaeden Lieberher gives a surprisingly emotional performance as Bill, but it does come off a little cheesy in the writing. They manage to do excellent work with what they have, continuing a high bar of young actors moving forward.
At the base of IT you’ve got an excellent monster movie. It’s clear that director Andy Muschietti and the writers (Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman) embraced the source material, and the dark subject matter. Most movies, the original included, stay away from inflicting much in the way of gore or on-screen violence against children, but IT leans into it from the first moment. The scene that sets things in motion is one that also manages to really let you know that Pennywise is a threat, and these kids are in danger. Where in the original, the scene cuts away from the goofy fangs of Pennywise to a small coffin, this one decides that it’s really going to lean into the scene, and Georgie finds himself missing on of his arms, and attempting to crawl away from the storm drain where it ultimately meets his demise. The scene is grim, violent, and legitimately caught me by surprise. You don’t really expect to see a child get his arm bitten off, and cry as he tries to escape, but it really works .
The other place that IT shines is in how far they are willing to push the monster gags. A particular scene in a garage ends with a giant, almost absurd Pennywise terrorizing the kids. The scene could have really fallen flat, or seemed silly, but it actually manages to be pretty scary. They took big bold risk in creating the monster scenes, and it works so much better than it has any business doing. There’s no denying that it pays of in a major way.
I’ll admit that it’s been awhile since I read the book, and actually I’m planning to pick up a copy and get through it over the next month or two, but one of the big changes here is the time period that the movie is set. The part in the book, and in the original TV series, is set in the late 50’s, with the adult chapters taking place in the 80’s, this one however takes place in the 80’s and I genuinely think it’s a better movie for it. It makes sense that the book would be set in the time that it is, especially given when it came out, but setting it in the late 80’s instead makes the characters and the world they live in much more recognizable and engaging. I know that when it comes to adaptation, any variation from the “original” tends to be met with scorn and disdain, but this really does only make the movie better.
At the end of the day, it’s hard not to say that IT is an all-around excellent horror movie. One that manages to make the often unfilmable work of Stephen King into a compelling and frightening ride from start to finish. The characters are excellent, the movie doesn’t at all feel like the 135 minutes that it is, and Skarsgård as Pennywise just works so well, and he deserves some serious credit for the work he’s done here. Plus, the fact that they released the movie 27 years after the first one, playing it into the entire mythology of the monster makes it a pretty cool bit of marketing. That said, I really hope we don’t have to wait 27 years for the next one, as I genuinely can’t wait to see what they do with the sequel. It would be kind of nice to let all these kids age up, and continue to play these characters, Boyhood style, but I think my desire for chapter 2 is much stronger.
IT is solid, scary, entertaining, and just awesome. Go see it.