From contributing film critic Andrew Gaudion
Stephen King’s prolific career as an author has inspired a vast number of adaptations from various filmmakers, studios, and TV networks over the course of his 50-odd years writing (there have been five adaptations this year alone). King’s work captures the imagination of many with far-out concepts, cosmically mind-bending plots, memorable characters, white-knuckle thrills and spooky chills around every corner. This particular blend fits his 1986 epic novel It very well; a hugely ambitious, bat-shit crazy 1000-plus page thriller about a group of friends as both children and then adults 27 years later, fighting off a fiendishly vicious entity.
Already adapted as a TV mini-series in the 90s starring Tim Curry (an adaptation that hasn’t aged well but has a lot of nostalgic fans), it seemed time for someone to have another crack at King’s epic novel, particularly in an age where nostalgia and King-flavoured items are back on the menu following the likes of Netflix’s Stranger Things. With this in mind, director Andy Muschietti made the wise decision to turn this first of two planned movies into a coming of age tale focusing on the lead characters (the Losers Club) as kids in 1988 when they first come to encounter the eponymous ‘It’, which favours the form of a terrifying clown (you may have seen him around). The result is a film which can quite happily stand as one of the better King adaptions, not just of this year, but of all-time.
This adaptation of It benefits greatly from the streamlined approach to its narrative. Free from having to flash backwards and forwards between the Losers as kids and then adults, Muschietti’s film can stand quite comfortably by itself and take an appropriate amount of time to establish these young friends and their group dynamics. All of the child actors are impeccably cast, each and every single one of them convincing as part of a tight knit group, and each with their own relatable issues, strengths and flaws.
Every moment spent in the town of Derry with this rag-tag group of friends riding around on their bicycles gives the film that unmistakable ‘Amblin’ vibe so quintessential to 80’s movies such as The Goonies, as well as putting it alongside another King adaptation, Stand By Me. It is within the moments shared by this group of friends that the film thrives, proving to be genuinely heartfelt and very funny to boot. It is also these same moments that will allow you to forgive many of the film’s flaws.
It is much more successful at being a coming-of-age movie than it is a horror film. While the opening scene featuring Bill Skarsgård’s skin-crawling take on Pennywise, the sewer-dwelling clown, is suitably tense and drawn out, the same can’t be said for the scares across the rest of the film. What follows is a ‘haunted house’ approach to horror: spooky thing, loud noises, even louder score, and gore where you can spare it. Muschietti’s jump-scare approach certainly works in the moment, but it means that many of the scares aren’t all that memorable in the long run, almost undermining Skarsgård’s exceedingly creepy performance.
That being said, Muschietti and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (of Oldboy fame) have shot a beautifully dynamic film, one that is incredibly rich in colour, and that basks in the summer sun of ’88, even if our young heroes find that they can’t. It allows for the film to have a fresh and breezy vibe to accompany the charismatic group of young actors, while also giving it a somewhat nostalgic hue.
What you most come away with after seeing It is how much fun you’ve had, and how strangely wholesome the whole experience felt. Sure, it has a shapeshifting entity with razor sharp teeth that eats children, but it is predominantly a story about friendship, about a group of friends thrust together in a desperate situation, all the while helping each other to overcome their individual fears and anxieties. It operates as a love letter to the 80s (imagine if Wes Craven had directed Goonies, then you’re on the right track), a tremendous service to King and a great piece of entertainment for audiences alike. Unless you’re a clown that is.
(Photos copyright: New Line Cinema, KatzSmith Productions, Lin Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment)