STARRING: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgard, Wyatt Oleff, Sophia Lillis, FinnWolfhard
DIRECTED BY: Andy Muschietti
ADAPTED BY: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman
The second Stephen King adaptation of 2017 has a big journey ahead of it. Not only does it have to compete with the rose-tinted nostalgia that so many will have for the 1990 TV based mini-series but it has to compete against a cynical audience, once burned by The Dark Tower. To adapt any book to film is a mammoth task but to retell one of the horror maestro’s most popular books is asking for a level of critique many films aren’t subjected to.
Summer 1989. After his younger brother Georgie goes missing during a rain storm the previous October, high schooler Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) still desperately searches for traces of his lost sibling. Together with his friends Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), the group go in search of not only Georgie, but the untold number of children that have gone missing in the small town of Derry, Maine.
Dubbing themselves “The Losers Club”, the foursome are joined along the way by Beverly, Mike and Ben (Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs and Jeremy Ray Taylor, respectively). Brought together by sheer bad luck, the group start to individually and collectively have run-ins with a supernatural being that seems to be presenting itself as the group’s worst fears. But with every encounter comes the manifestation of Pennywise, The Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), a terrifying monster whose harmless demeanour quickly gives way to something more sinister. The now seven-strong Losers Club have no choice but to confront Pennywise. They must figure out why the local monster has been plaguing the town, how to beat it and, most importantly, how to not fall victim to the ancient evil.
In a post Stranger Things world, you would be forgiven for thinking that IT is simply a cash-in on the love that the Netflix show reignited for The Goonies-style kids adventure stories and coming-of-age-tales. Regardless of the fact, this adaptation has been in development since 2009 with several directors involved (including screenwriter Cary Fukunaga). This retelling of the Stephen King classic is a strong enough showing to earn the respect of even the most jaded of King fans and filmgoers alike.
A stellar cast of child actors (both known and unknown) is at the heart of this wonderful tale of growing up against all odds. To have more than half a dozen actors fighting for screen time could very well leave you with a disjointed story that is badly told. With IT, each character gets to spend a little time on their own, not just with the monster inhabiting their town but also with the multitude of real-life issues that they have to deal with at the same time. From school bullies to abusive home lives and everything in between, The Losers Club are having a rough go of it regardless of the age old demon terrorising their home, and every actor here works themselves hard to prove that to the audience.
The centre of it all, the reason these children have banded together, is Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise. Made into a truly iconic character twenty-seven years ago by the one and only Tim Curry – Completely accidentally, I’m sure, but in the book *and* both adaptations, “IT” hibernates and returns to Derry every twenty-seven years – the Swedish actor had some enormous clown shoes to fill. But instead of imitating the classic rendition of the dancing clown, Skarsgård does what he can to make the part his own and, even though many of the 1990 adaptations scenes are recreated here, he adds an extra level of creepiness that Curry just could not reach.
From our first encounter with the monster in the now world famous sewer drain scene, the Scandinavian thespian brings a nightmarish performance that would leave most parents wanting to lock their kids away forever, never letting them outside again. Skarsgård has taken all preconceptions of this nameless evil and brought to us the kind of character to keep even the most hardened horror fans awake at night. Yet, at the same time, Pennywise is a character you want to cheer for, such is the brilliance of the performance on show here.
Mama director Andy Muschietti seems to understand the horrors of being a little kid in a big scary world. The horror-helmer has created a world that you can’t help but get immersed in and brought to life a book that by all accounts should have been left alone after the much-loved 1990 adaptation came to our screens. As it is, the Argentinian director has taken a genre movie that has no right to a mainstream audience and made arguably the best built-for-the-masses film of its kind since The Conjuring.
IT is a rare beast in a world of sub-par book adaptations. A newcomer to King’s work, his films, or the horror genre as a whole, will get just as much enjoyment from this story as a die-hard fan, spotting winks, nods and elbow nudges to the Maine native’s writing peppered all the way through. One of, if not the, best films of 2017 so far.
IT is now on general release in cinemas.