IT (2017) Directed by Andy Muschietti. Starring Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher and Finn Wolfhard. Seven misfit kids spend a small town summer being stalked by a powerful, child-eating entity in this adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 classic horror novel.
It’s a rainy day in October of 1988 in the small Maine town of Derry, and Bill Denbrough crafts a wax-coated paper boat for his younger brother Georgie to sail through the flooded streets. Before the boy ventures out into the downpour, we see his bond with his older sibling.
At school, Bill might be mocked for his stutter and bullied by local psychopath Henry Bowers, but in Georgie’s eyes, he’s the very coolest.
The boat, dubbed the S.S. Georgie, moves along at a swift clip and eventually slips into a storm drain. While peering down into the impenetrable darkness of the sewer, Georgie is suddenly introduced to Pennywise the Dancing Clown. With his hungry orange eyes and thick red lips, he cuts quite a curious figure.
During their conversation, I smiled at how endearingly loopy Pennywise comes off. Sure, his story of an entire circus blown into the gutter by the storm doesn’t make any sense, but it’s not about rationality. There’s a fairy tale, troll under the bridge quality, to Georgie’s ill-fated encounter with Pennywise. The clown is oddly charming in a childish sorta way, until he’s not.
Let’s just say that poor Georgie has a very bad morning. It’s the last time Bill Skarsgard gets to play Pennywise as somewhat affable, since the clown is aggressive and overtly murderous from here on out.
We jump ahead to the start of the summer of 1989, and find Bill constructing elaborate models of the town’s sewers as a means of hypothesizing Georgie’s possible survival. Each of his friends in The Losers Club-motor mouthed smartass Richie, neurotic hypochondriac Eddie and skeptical Stan-are haunted by a creature who embodies their fears; a creepy woman from a painting in the synagogue for Stan, a repulsive leper oozing pus for germophobic Eddie, etc. And through the sadistic machinations of Henry Bowers and his friends, The Losers Club grows by three: shy new kid Ben, kindhearted tomboy Beverly and local farm hand Mike. The latter is haunted by the house fire deaths of his family as he spends his after school hours on the farm, using a captive bolt pistol to slaughter sheep. While Bev is terrorized by female bullies at school and dogged by persistent and untrue rumors of her promiscuity.
Each of the boys is harassed by Henry Bowers for different reasons: Mike is black, Stan is Jewish, Ben is overweight, Bill stutters, and so on.
They’ve all had their own terrifying encounter with Pennywise, leading them to compare notes and begin to investigate Derry’s many disappearances.
When they finally fight back as one against their protean and terrifying enemy, it’s thrilling.
Going into an adaptation of one of my favorite novels by an author whose work I revere, I knew I wasn’t going to walk out thinking it was just okay. With all the passion I have for these characters and this story, it was gonna be love or hate. I came away from the film in awe of the casting director who assembled the seven perfect actors to portray The Losers.
You can’t force chemistry between thespians, and these kids have it in spades.
By some rare magic, Muschietti’s “IT” gives us young actors who completely nail their roles with humor and heart. We get Richie’s profane wisecracks, Ben’s questionable taste in music, Eddie’s health statistics and anxiety towards virtually everything, Bev’s fearlessness and Bill’s anguished devotion to getting answers, and then justice, for Georgie.
It’s easy to get attached to each of them because their conversations are shot through with awkwardness and unearned cockiness of adolescent behavior.
The kids are so far beyond just alright, so what’s doing with the big bad monster?
Though Tim Curry’s iconic 1990 performance as the deadly clown is justifiably looked up to, Bill Skarsgard isn’t really playing that role. His Pennywise is a mask, an unearthly monster’s IDEA of what an amiable jokester would act like, and beneath that disguise is an insidious intelligence, a slavering hunger, and no small amount of hatred when It eventually discovers that the Losers Club has a strength all their own.
If this fiend had a daily To Do List, it would read:
1. Scare The Shit Out Of Everyone
2. Make Them Feel Bad With Painful Psychological Reminders Of Their Pasts
3. Eat Them.
It’s pretty high energy, too. Pennywise runs now, like Usain Bolt level sprinting while screaming his head off. The creature is having fun, and why shouldn’t it? Its seemingly immortal, super powered, and lives beneath an all you can eat buffet. I’m a fan of Bill’s from his Hemlock Grove days, and it’s so much fun to witness his fresh take on the material.
I’m a fan of Bill from his “Hemlock Grove” days, and it’s so much fun to witness his fresh take on the material.
The other thing is, modern special effects can bring to life the many wondrous and terrifying feats the creature performs. So we have a more fully realized antagonist who can shapeshift, grow much larger and appear out of nowhere.
As with any adaptation, there are some alterations and going into all the ways the script streamlines the book would take forever.
There are excluded subplots, terrifying kills and loads of history not touched on by this cinematic incarnation. But of particular interest is the climactic battle.
Spoilers follow though I’m not going to discuss who dies or incredibly specific plot details. If you want to walk into the theatre knowing nothing, stop reading.
The first half of the novel, the kid’s story, ends with a confrontation in which Bill is given an unwanted tour of the Macroverse. It’s a void sometimes called the Todash Darkness that surrounds the known universe and houses a massive galaxy-creating turtle and its bitter enemy, a beast of crackling energy that is hell bent on constantly consuming everything. This is the truest form of the monster, the shape behind its Earthly form. Back in our dimension, Pennywise and all the other disguises of the creature have fallen away and we are left with a huge spider. The Losers battle and severely wound it, and it crawls off to die.
The film’s climax doesn’t get interdimensional or cosmic, and though I would love to see the Macroverse on the big screen, the intent of the final fight is basically the same. We don’t get a full-on alien spider rampaging around, but Pennywise does grow spider arms during the skirmish, hinting at what’s to come.
So some of the more fantastic elements of the novel may have been altered, but no one unfamiliar with the story is going to be sitting in the theatre thinking: “Why is that normal human in grease paint terrorizing these poor kids?”
The bulk of what the monster can do is up there on the screen. There’s plenty of shape shifting, reality altering fun, and most of the visual effects are on point. And true to his full title as a Dancing Clown, Pennywise does indeed cut a rug in a rather alarming dance sequence.
In one of my favorite scenes, the Losers take on the creature for a little hand-to-hand combat, and it retaliates by taking the shapes of their worst fears as it engages each child opponent, fluidly shifting between lepers and mummies and Mike’s burning parents.
It’s pure monster combat bliss.
I can’t think of any higher praise to heap on “IT” than to say that this film faithfully captures the spirit of Stephen King’s work. I’m chomping at the bit for the concluding chapter, though I don’t envy the task of the adult actors stepping into the roles of the grown up Losers after their younger counterparts.
These kids are formidable talents.