Stephen King’s “It” has always been a tough book to adapt. At 1,138 pages, the book is an amalgam of horror tropes spread over decades of the characters’ lives. With scenes both controversial and horrific, it’s almost impossible to boil it down to just a few images.
Many of you might have seen the original ABC adaptation of “It” from the 1990’s. While it wasn’t exactly a faithful adaptation, and it had its fair share of problems, the series (and Tim Curry’s performance as the titular clown) terrified a generation of children.
Fast forward to 2017, and we have a new “It” and a new Pennywise to introduce Stephen King’s tome of terror to a new audience, and how does it fare?
This new film, the first in a duology directed by Andy Muschetti, is the closest thing we’ll ever get to a 1:1 adaptation, and it is a blast. Repositioning the plot from the 50’s to the 80’s, Muschetti and company allow the film to take on a new level of familiarity and visual heft that the 1990’s version lacked completely. A cacophony of horror imagery dragged from your nightmares, “It” is a stellar horror adaptation that, while not reinventing the genre, plays up its genre stylings in a wholly entertaining way.
To be honest, the most surprising part about “It” is that I didn’t expect the movie to be so much fun. The film is anchored by a Spielberg-esque group of kids called “The Losers’ Club” and instead of being a full two hours of horror, the film often has a light-hearted touch that brings more laughs than screams. At the same time, it makes the dichotomy between the horror scenes
that much more distinct. When the film gets
scary, it REALLY gets scary.
The child actors are appropriately funny and dynamic, with newcomer Sophia Lillis as Beverly and Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things” fame as Richie pulling the best moments, but the real star is Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. His performance, punctuated by macabre marionette-like movements and dialogue that sends a chill up your spine, is a flawless horror role that should heighten Pennywise to a creature on the same level as Jason or Leatherface. He delivers his lines with a juxtaposition of comical high pitched joking and guttural growls, turning something innocent to horrifying in seconds.
The plot has its fair share of problems, but that’s just due to the nature of the novel itself. “It” is a twisting, labyrinthian text weaving dozens of characters and horror ideas together in a tapestry of terror.
In film, that can be a little uncanny. It takes a minute for the film to get moving, but when it does, it chugs along at a frightening clip. What starts fun and upbeat dives straight into terror, and from about the hour point on, the film doesn’t give you a break. Scenes with a leper and deformed woman (not dissimilar to the creature in Muschetti’s own “Mama”) are new additions that will make your throat knot up, and the classic scenes of the bloody bathroom and the sewer kidnapping are as crazy as ever. While the story itself is messy at times, the film’s visuals and how it approaches the horror help keep things grounded and enjoyable.
Speaking of visuals, by far the most notable bit of the film is the cinematography, believe it or not. Shot by long time Chan-wook Park cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon, the imagery is sharp and lush in a way that no Hollywood horror film is these days. Colors pop off the screen, grime and grit is palpable, and the whole film feels like a lucid fever dream. Add in the sheer level of horror imagery and imaginative set pieces, and you get one of the most visually-arresting films of the year.
“It” isn’t a masterpiece on the level of films like “It Follows,” “Get Out,” or “Don’t Breathe.” It’s not a travesty like the first “Ouija” or “Annabelle.” Instead, it’s a perfect example of popcorn horror. Easily digestible, funny, terrifying and just plain enjoyable, “It” is the kind of horror film we don’t get to see often: one that is just horror, pure and simple. The plot is a bit messy, but the visuals and jaw dropping performances make up for it tenfold. After the travesty that was “The Dark Tower,” it’s great to have at least one classic Stephen King adaptation coming out this year. Let’s just hope they can stick the landing with Chapter Two. 4/5