Film Review: It
So I’ve had a few days to think about It, the latest film adaptation of Stephen King’s masterpiece.
I won’t lie, It is my favourite book, it occupies the space above The Mists of Avalon, Dune and The Clan of the Cave Bear. This book taught me the two things that have shaped my writing career ever since. You don’t need a complex plotlines to write a great book, just a good story and if you write great characters a reader will follow them anywhere.
Even down a sewer in Derry.
This entire preamble is to say that I went to watch this film with very high expectations. I was prepared to be disappointed. I’d watched the 1990 mini-series and other than one great performance from Tim Curry, it was pretty standard television fare. While the child performers in the series were outstanding, especially the late Jonathan Brandis, the adult parts too often descended into sentimentality. The less said about the last ten minutes, the better.
Fortunately, the R-Rating of the current adaptation ensures the scares will remain intact. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the opening scene with George’s fateful meeting with Pennywise might be even more brutal than what is depicted in the book. Certainly the scene was worsened by the emphasis of Derry’s indifference to what has been happening in their town. This sets the tone for the rest of the film.
I’ll warn devoted fans of the book, the movie does not follow the first half of It verbatim. There are changes and rather sizeable ones. However, considering this is King’s most voluminous work and that the movie itself clocks in at over 2 hours, I understand Andy Muschietti’s decision to make an abridged version of It. Unlike the recent Dark Tower adaptation, which attempted its own interpretation to disastrous results, Muschietti does not lose sight of the story he’s trying to tell.
The bond between the children fighting unimaginable horror.
As I mentioned earlier, the children in the 1990s adaptation were impressive but the cast of child actors in this one may eclipse them. Standout is Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozier, who provides many of the film’s laugh-out moments. His scenes with Jack Dylan Graze’s Eddie Kaspbrak are a joy to watch. Providing an equally touching, nuanced performance is Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hanscom whose secret crush for Beverly Marsh is bittersweet perfection.
Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh is a star making performance. The girl is electric and it’s understandable why the Losers hold her in such awe. Equal parts vulnerable and strength, Lillis portrays a girl who understands monsters far better than any of her male counterparts could possibly imagine. She simply nails Beverly's horror in the bathroom scene.
The remaining members of the Loser acquit themselves well but these four will stay with you after the credits roll...which brings me to Pennywise.
Much has been made of Skarsgard’s different approach to the titular creature and one wonders what Tim Curry would have done if he was unrestrained by television censorship. I suspect something like what was in this movie. Skarsgard’s Pennywise is terrifying and subtle. Yes, there are obvious scares, this is after all a horror movie, but when Pennywise is at his most menacing is when he converses with his prey. He is simply unsettling and it’s a sensation that remains even after he’s off screen and the more shocking scares are over.
The highest compliment I can give Skarsgard is at no point during his performance as Pennywise, did I think about Tim Curry and that’s impressive.
Unfortunately it isn’t a perfect movie. Certain things have been sacrificed. I question the reason why Mike Hanlon’s arc was short-changed. I suspect it is to avoid the racial undertones that might seem out of place in the 80’s as opposed to the book’s original 50’s era but still it guts an important element of his character. Also as always in films like these, the adults get relegated to background players and this costs some important character moments, e.g. the scene with Mr. Keene in the pharmacy.
The climax in the sewer (which for once actually looks like a sewer and not the world’s cleanest subway tunnel) is satisfying. I’ll be interested in how the sequel explains the Deadlights because we get only a smattering of it here. The movie does not delve into the macroverse and I believe this might be a wise decision for the first outing in this world. I have no idea how it would translate on screen and handled badly, could descend into a David Lynch type acid trip.
Instead, the climax is serviced by some great performances showing how much the experience of facing Pennywise has strengthened these children, starting with a heartbreaking scene involving Jaeden Lieberher’s Bill. The transition between child and adult is completed by this fight and eliminates the need for a particular moment in the book (readers, you know the one I mean) that would have child welfare groups screaming bloody murder.
If a sequel is never made, It has been structured to survive without it. There are no loose threads although there is certainly enough wiggle room to explore some storylines when production rolls for It: Chapter Two. All in all, I was happy by this adaptation because while it wasn’t exactly like the book, the story and characters remain intact the way Stephen King intended.