Stephen King is one of the greatest authors, not of today, but perhaps of all time. He’s had the ability to produce nearly a book a year, all of the highest caliber. What people consider his greatest novel, IT, has been turned into a TV miniseries in 1990, and now has been rebooted as a feature length film (the first of a planned two film series).
IT takes place in the late 80s in Derry, Maine, a small town plagued with the mysterious disappearances of their children. We follow a group of friends who, affectionately, call themselves “the losers.” Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) the defacto leader of the group, lost his brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) to this supposed town curse, and is determined to find out what happened to him. In their investigations “the losers” come face to face with a terrifying clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).
The novel is famous for the horror elements, but many forget that King’s story is a coming of age story too. The 1990 mini-series glossed over that aspect, and it failed to give the story the grounding of reality that then makes surreal elements so terrifying. Director Andy Muschetti chooses to be more loyal his source material and the film benefits from that. The film, although led in narrative by young actors, is much darker than you expect. The kids are potty-mouthed, but they are given distinct and unique personalities. The film ends up being character driven instead of pulling itself along the story timeline.
And while the horror aspects of the film are effective, the merit has to go to Stephen King’s concept rather than Andy Muschetti’s execution. In fact, the film relied too much on jump scares to the point that Pennywise was all over the place. The problem with this is that not much is left for the imagination to distort; by the end you’d seen Pennywise so much that he ended up seeming goofy.
To his credit, Bill Skarsgård had big shoes to fill for Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise in 1990, but he manages to pull off an equally energetic performance even if it’s not as impactful. But what surprised me most about the film were the incredible child actors. We’d already seen the likes of Jaeden Lieberher from Midnight Special and St. Vincent and Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things, they were given the two best-written characters, but the others, the likes of Sophia Lillis and Jack Dylan Grazer stand out, were able to make do with characters that were otherwise a bit flatter, pulling them out of any stereotype territory.
In the end, this IT adaptation is more effective than the 1990s iteration, giving us more compelling characters and reasons to care about their well-being; there’s a great high school film in here. As for the horror elements, however, end up underwhelming, relying on the cheap commodities of gore and jump-scares than a slow burn and haunting brooding menace.