(AOTN) The infamous killer clown known as Pennywise is making his return, this time to the big screen. Despite a slew of Stephen King adaptations over the past 30 plus years, “IT” being one of them, is this something that really needs to be revisited? The short answer: Absolutely. Despite nostalgic ties, it’s safe to the say the first adaption of “IT” was far from perfect, and left a lot to be desired, especially for those that have read the book. And although this modern version of the tale doesn’t heed to the source material entirely, it certainly comes a lot closer than its predecessor. Also I am confident one could argue that the changes made to the source material for this adaptation could be for the better.
Directed by Andy Muschietti (Mama) this 2017 adaptation quickly establishes that it is not the made-for-TV adaptation from 1990. Still there are a few little nods here and there, along with some other fun easter eggs. For all those that saw the first promo for the film (which I’m guessing is anyone reading this review), we already knew Georgie chasing the paper boat is pretty much a shot-for-shot remake, at least until a point. Ultimately this scene is a lot more brutal than its 90’s counterpart, effectively setting the tone and showcasing what we can expect from the rest of the film. Many will also recognize a quick glimpse of a costume obviously meant to resemble Tim Curry’s portrayal of the iconic clown. But my personal favorite nod to the overall source material is one that takes place in real time. In the novel and in this version of the film it is made clear that the terrorizing clown known as Pennywise returns every 27 years (not 30 like it was in the mini-series). The release of this movie marks the 27th anniversary of the mini-series and the first time we saw Pennywise come to life.
Like I just mentioned this film takes no time to establish itself as it’s own thing and definitely not a remake. Muschietti ditches the back-and-forth timelines of the original adaptation for a more straightforward and linear story, leaving the adult portion of the story for a sequel (just like the book). We also see a level of visceral violence in the first 15 minutes that the original adaption never came close to creating. This version also updates the time period a bit, moving the story to the 1980’s making it much more relatable for many of the viewers and allowing it to play in the same sandbox as the insanely popular “Stranger Things” series on Netflix. There is something about this time period that seems to inspire nostalgia in everyone, even if its not the generation you grew up in. Nostalgia is an important factor when it comes to a story like “IT”. Childhood memories have a tendency to snowball into larger and more grandiose event as the lines between fact and embellishment blur. Muschietti manages to translate that perspective and sense of child like imagination onto film brilliantly, bouncing between romantic sentimentality and over the top theatricality throughout the film.
The kids are clearly the focal point of the film, and credit must go to the young cast, among whom there is not single weak link. Dealing with a cast of children actors is traditionally known to require patience, no matter how talented the young actors may be. Clearly Muschietti has the patience, because the final product provides one of the of the most authentic portrayals of children transitioning into puberty I have seen to date. A fair amount of screen time is dedicated to developing the backstory and establishing each member of the “Losers’ Club” and their respective dysfunctional lives. This does cause the second act to slow down a bit but the result is a truly well-rounded ensemble, as awkward and lovable as they are foul-mouthed and funny.
Okay up until this point I haven’t really mentioned the man of the hour, and what you can expect from this new modern take on Pennywise. Well much like this movie, I am in the belief that Pennywises’ character is at his scariest when used carefully and sparingly. With his cracked yet perfect clown make-up and creepy Victorian garb, this version of Pennywise is truly an achievement of make-up and design. And despite his somewhat minimal screen time, Skarsgård leaves a hell of an impression. His performance is bizarre and nuanced, at least as much as the story will allow. Despite some amazing practical effects, “IT” still takes advantage of modern film-making and uses a fair amount of CGI. Because of this Skarsgård doesn’t really have to provide the level of acting that Tim Curry did in the 1990 adaptation. Skarsgard delivers when needed and I certainly think this version of Pennywise is more terrifying, but I doubt this will be the role Bill Skarsgård will be remembered for.
All the elements of a Stephen King story are present in this film. If some of the horror sequences feel a bit obvious, it’s probably because King himself leaned heavily on those tropes. The movie provides plenty of terrifying moments but in the end I feel like the genius behind “IT” is its ability to rekindle the joys, confusions and fears of childhood.
Even if this movie was set up from the beginning for a sequel, it definitely earned one, and not by using some cheesy cliffhanger or lingering plot threads. This is a well rounded movie, and by the end you feel like you saw the whole story from beginning to end. Fortunately we know that’s not the case. Lets just hope it doesn’t take 27 years.