A living, breathing, dancing nightmare.
Stephen King may be a master of horror, but the sprawling list of adaptations of his material is far from totally exemplary. Of late, Cell and The Dark Tower are the latest measly additions to the roster. In the past, as much as it may pain you, this also includes the original IT.
Fondly remembered (and often misremembered as a movie), the TV mini series, which was otherwise mediocre due to severe scripting issues and abysmal acting, has been carried generation to generation through troublesome whispers in the playground on the back of Tim Curry’s admittedly traumatic performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Even I’ll admit it was the first horror experience to keep me up at night, cowering in the corner of my imagination, maybe even shedding a few tears. But compare it to the source material and the cracks soon widen – IT is not good. For years fans have pleaded for the big screen debut of the titular monster. Now that it’s here, will you be able to shrug it off, or will it eat away at as you sheepishly try to shrug it off? Bring someone to hold, because make no mistake, IT is scary.
When reports of missing children across the town of Derry dramatically rise, a young group of teens find themselves up against the murderous Pennywise, a clown that resurfaces over the years to feed on kids.
Stranger Things is owed a debt of gratitude for the resurgence in love for a nostalgic ‘kids on a mission’ saga. Not just that, but the tone and humour seen in the masterful Netflix series chimes home in IT, even more so due to the inclusion of one of its stars, Finn Wolfhard.
What’s incredible about this adaptation is that it works both as an effective horror and a heartwarming coming-of-age tale. Our group of misfits, aka The Losers Club, are front and centre, bickering and winding each other up. Wolfhard is reminiscent of The Goonies‘ Mouth, crude and cheeky and often stealing some huge laughs: “Hey are these your birth control pills?” he fires to his fellow loser. The resonant script is lightning sharp, akin to King’s Stand By Me, which in many ways this is similar – a potentially dead boy is a driving force behind the group. The sole female member, Beverley, is more than a love interest for a couple of the boys. Sophia Lillis handles her expertly through some truly unsettling themes, mainly her possessive and creepily predatory father.
Director Andy Muschietti establishes very early on that IT is well deserving of its 15 rating. Themes throughout, such as the afore mentioned paedophilia, bereavement and bullying – the like of which hasn’t been in cinemas since 2004’s intense Mean Creek – isn’t dealt in tiny measures. But the very real friendship between the youngsters keeps the film from descending too far into the darkness, that is until Pennywise appears. Clowns are a common fear, even Ronald McDonald gives people the creeps. This is an unparalleled level though (a McNappy should be mandatory).
Manning the character this time is Bill Skarsgard, who improves upon Curry whilst owning the role. His take is much more deranged, aiming and landing on an air of relentless creepiness and making everyone, audience included, feel utterly powerless. Credit where credit is due, the make-up work here is outstanding, carving a much more menacing clown from the source material than than the less bold mini series. Muschietti often lets the camera linger on Pennywise’s face, as it shifts from a laugh to a stone-cold soul-intruding stare. It could be argued that the more we see him the less powerful his presence becomes, but trust me, when you see him out in full jerking and laughing, letting out a wicked “you’ll float”, you’ll want your seat to swallow you whole (for Curry fans, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it easter egg portrait). Muschietti’s previous work Mama, a thoroughly average outing, can be seen in several of the frantic, scream-inducing encounters with Pennywise, the same directional flourish that gave Mama its greatest scares.
Undoubtedly, Skarsgard is now a modern horror icon. Like all great villains though, his evil plight to savage the children of Derry is made all the more horrifying by the care have for the characters. So much so that when Wolfhard let’s out a “Welcome to the Losers Club asshole!” as he throws himself towards the clown, you’ll want to stand up and cheer like he’s one of your own.
At nearly two and a half hours, it’s a seemingly impossible feat these days to keep people invested for so long, especially in a horror. Rest assured, the entirety is captivating. Whereas the central theme may have been lost in the miniseries, this update never forgets that Pennywise feeds off fear, which manifests itself in any way it sees fit, something which no matter how hard they might fight it, is a terrifying concept for everyone. IT‘s not only one of the finest and most faithful book-to-screen adaptations, IT‘s a vehicle of ruthless terror, ingrained permanently in my brain and set on a recurring loop. “It’s not real” you’ll hear me sob, “it’s not real”. With this only being the first chapter of the story – the next catching up with the kids as grown-ups – I long for the reunion of the losers and the return of the first truly terrifying character in a decade.
No matter how hard you try, you can never be freed from the violent grip of IT, set to send many’s sleep patterns into a self destructive cycle.
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