Director: Andy Muschiettie Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Fin Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgard Year: 2017 Rating: R
IT is arguably one of Stephen King’s most involved and inscrutable works. The book significantly ties into King’s greater literary universe and explores abstract concepts that aren’t always easy to visualize or interpret, especially if you are unfamiliar with many of the author’s other stories.
That in combination with some of the more– ahem– avant-garde material in the novel might explain the lack of attempts at a big screen adaptation since King first published IT back in 1986.
Thankfully, Director Andy Muschiettie (Mama) and his screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman accessibly scale back the more confounding, cosmic elements of King’s terrifying tale to focus in on the coming-of-age story at its core. And why not? It’s the strongest, most relatable aspect of the book and so too of the new film.
By now I’m sure you’re at least somewhat familiar with the iconic scene that sets everything into motion. It’s a rainy autumn afternoon in the small, fictional town of Derry, Maine. A young, sickly boy named Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) sends his baby brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) outside to play with a nifty paper boat. Almost immediately, the S.S. Georgie (as it’s christened) is swallowed up by a storm drain.
Just then, what should appear from the dark, damp abyss but a jovial, dancing clown (Bill Skarsgard). Calling himself Pennywise and claiming to be a friend, the gleaming anomaly offers Georgie his boat back. Paying no attention to the drool running from the clown’s mouth or the accompanying dead-eyed stare, Georgie reaches into the drain and– well– let’s just say Pennywise ain’t exactly runnin’ a charity here.
Sadly, Georgie is just the latest in a long line of children who’ve recently gone missing in Derry. And things might have stayed that way too. You see, nobody in Derry is too keen on actually investigating these disappearances. None of the adults anyways.
Holding out hope that his younger brother is still alive, Bill employs the aid of his closest friends (they call themselves the Losers Club) to investigate the Barrens, a local tract of muddy land where the nearby river meets the city sewage. Here the Losers hunt for George; instead, they discover they’re the ones being hunted.
One by one, the Losers have their own traumatizing run-in with Pennywise wherein IT terrorizes them by taking the form of their greatest fears. Among these malicious manifestations are a deformed nun; an oozing leper; and the crispy, headless corpse of a dead child. Though we only catch brief glimpses of them, each shape is vividly repulsing and impossible to un-see. That’s the genius of Muschiettie’s approach.
However, the ultimate success or failure of IT hinges on its casting, which is why I’m enthusiastic to report that Muschiettie and company have positively nailed the casting and all the way around too.
Bill Skarsgard is an impressive follow-up to Tim Curry, who had an iconic turn as Pennywise during the IT miniseries back in 1990. Though his performance isn’t as flamboyant as Curry’s, Skarsgard still captures the whimsical spirit of the child-eating clown.
While you may buy a ticket to see Skarsgard as IT, you will walk away remembering the Losers. Spending time with the central group of kids here is a joy and even though there are seven of them, each is allotted a healthy dose of screen time; not just to explain their individual encounters with Pennywise, but also to explore the deeper (and oftentimes scarier) conflicts in their lives.
The chemistry among the young cast is infectious. It’s difficult to resist their shared charm but easy to believe that these kids would actually be friends in real life. Though their story seems otherworldly at times, their earnestness with each other and the audience feels very grounded. Ultimately, I felt scared when they felt scared and happy when they felt happy because I cared.
IT is setting fire to a number of box office records. That means plenty of people are heading out to see it, which means there ought to be plenty of opinions. How did you enjoy IT? Did you opt not to go because you hate clowns? Hit me up in the comments below! I want to know!