Stephen King’s IT Directed by Andy Muschietti
Written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman
Starring Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott
Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date: September 8, 2017
The first adaptation of Stephen King‘s novel It was a 1990 mini-series starring Tim Curry as the child-eating monster. The ambitious project from director Tommy Lee Wallace tried in vain to fit all 1,100 pages of King’s epic novel into two 2-hour blocks and the results were a mixed bag. The first half is nearly universally beloved thanks to some great child acting and Curry chewing the scenery and stealing nights of sleep as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The second half focuses on the adults 27 years later returning to stop the evil again and it falters heavily from cheesy overacting and a universally “be-loathed” giant spider ending.
Coincidentally, it’s 27 year later, and Mama director Andy Muschietti took what worked back in 1990 and focused an entire film on it with Stephen King’s IT.
Not hampered by the dual timelines, Muschietti and screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman focus this adaptation all about the kids of Derry, Maine. Sure Pennywise is the selling point and the centerpiece of the marketing campaign and that is the right decision. Bill Skarsgard owns the role. His take on Pennywise had to be wholly different from Curry’s and he succeeded. Where Curry played the clown as a Bozo-type, with sarcastic charm and razor-sharp teeth, Skarsgard is an old-fashioned carnival nightmare, aided by some tremendous CGI to invoke the most scares possible. While Muschietti relies a bit too much on jump scares, and the trailer does spoil many of the best moments, I’m man enough to admit I jumped a few times and my wife watched with her sweatshirt covering half her face.
But again, this movie is about the kids and they are just stellar. The Losers Club is stuttering Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), loudmouth Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), and scaredy cat Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff). Soon they’re joined by loner Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), new kid Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and home-schooled Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). Each one has their expository scene, clueing the audiences into their worst fears and then showing Pennywise exploit them. While those parts will get the most play and discussion, it was the bonding moments that stood out the most for me and were far and away my favorite parts.
My wife leaned over during a particular scene and said, “it’s like the horror movie Goonies.” The dialogue and interactions between the boys was realistic and occasionally hilarious. We all had that friend who made inappropriate jokes at the worst times and started flouting his phony sexual prowess… and if you didn’t, it was you. Lieberher is great as the lead, playing Bill with a perfect mix of guilt and angst. Grazer perfectly embodies Eddie’s nervousness and rampant concerns over getting sick. And Wolfhard continues to be a standout amongst young ensembles, as he was in Netflix’s Stranger Things. His very Rated-R Richie was laugh out loud funny. Each kid brought something great to the table. And their reaction to having a real live girl friend is exactly on point. Essentially, they were kids being kids. They had fun, took risks, fought bullies and monsters, and developed a believable friendship, a bond that exceeded any of the family they had left. Their amazing chemistry made it so easy to buy that they were real friends.
You’re going to come to the theater for the scares and if that’s all you want here, you’ll be satisfied. It is much better as a straight film comparison than the 1990 version. Whereas the latter holds a special place in my heart for ruining my ability to sleep as a scared 8-year-old, the former shined for me more as a coming of age adventure story a la previously mentioned works like The Goonies, Stranger Things, and Stand By Me, which was also adapted from a King story. While the Curry/Skarsgard debate will rage on forever and will likely see a generational divide, there is no doubting that Andy Muschietti has made the definitive IT film.