“Beep Beep Richie!”
Good Stephen King book-to-film adaptations are notoriously difficult to find (his book-to-TV adaptations are equally diverse in quality but that’s a review for another time.) For every Misery, The Mist, or The Shining there’s umpteen The Dark Tower’s and Maximum Overdrive’s (the less said about Dreamcatcher, the better). King’s weighty 1986 tome, ‘It’, is a bit different. The book is pretty much regarded as one of King’s best and the 90’s TV adaptation has it’s own fans, but it’s no classic (basically it’s better than Dreamcatcher but it’s no The Shining). People have fond memories of the Tim Curry adaptation, so there’s an audience for it, but not too fond, so nobodies going to be too broken up about another go at it. Perfect for another adaptation then!
Despite it’s tumultuous production history, the 2017 version of It is undoubtedly one of the very best King adaptations. Mama director Andrés Muschietti took the helm from True Detective director Cary Fukunaga early on in production but this shake-up hasn’t effected the film in the slightest and actually may have made it better. Working from an updated version of Fukunaga’s original script, Muschietti turns the film into more of a fantasy-horror, closer to King’s original novel. The result is fantastic, and show’s how not all of King’s fantasy-horror’s have to be Dreamcatcher. Muschietti’s direction is brilliant throughout and, as anyone who saw his previous effort Mama can attest, the man really knows his way around horror. As with Mama he uses inventive techniques to wring as much horror out each situation (key scene with broken projector acting as a strobe light reminded me of the chilling camera scene in Mama). Muschietti is also a dab hand at mixing horror and comedy to effectively unsettling results, as a wonderful and much memed scene involving the camera being stabilised on a certain characters head shows. Thankfully the film avoids a lot of cliched jump scares and opts more for of a disturbing and unsettling atmosphere. A few people have said the film isn’t scary enough but I was suitably agitated for most of the film’s run time.
When you aren’t watching the film through your fingers though, you’ll find it’s also extremely funny. The script is non-stop hilarious and the young stars deliver each crude put-down and perform each of their respective character’s dorky tics wonderfully. All of the cast are across-the-board fantastic but the best are probably Richie (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard) and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer relative newcomer and nephew of Ron Howard’s frequent producing partner Brian Grazer). Wolfhard is fantastic in the role, showing a different side to his talents we saw in Stranger Things, where he the committed and serious leader of the group Mike. In It, Wolfhard’s Richie is the mouth of the group, frequently cursing and pissing off the others. He plays second fiddle to Jaeden Lieberher’s leader of the group, Bill, but he probably gets the films best scenes (and definitely it’s best speeches). Grazer is a standout too, as the sad but funny hypochondriac of the group. Eddie’s dismal attempt at changing the ‘LOSER’ written on his arm cast to ‘LOVER’ might be the films most tragically funny image. His relationship with his creepy and overbearing mother also gets some of the film’s best laughs, but never at the expense of the actual drama between the two (hopefully this is something else that will be continued in the subsequent sequel). It’s also worth noting just how fantastic this version’s Pennywise is. Bill Skarsgård (who I feel has been on the edges of stardom for a little while now) brings a hilarious creepiness to the character and makes the role entirely his own, even eclipsing the fond thought of Tim Curry version.
The Bottom Line: It is a fantastic fantasy/horror with outstanding lead performances and an excellent script. The direction by Mama helmer Andrés Muschietti is inventive, funny, and frequently spell-binding. The young cast are all surely destined for stardom as they turn in probably the best child ensemble performance since The Goonies. Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise is one the most instantly-iconic portrayals of a character I’ve seen all year. People are already comparing him to Health Ledger’s Joker, so perhaps it’d be best to enjoy his performance now, before all of the embarrassing cosplays ruin it. Admittedly I am worried quite how the sequel will compare to this after the characters are aged-up into 40 year olds. But with Skarsgård returning as Pennywise, and Muschietti again on scripting and directing duties, I can’t wait to find out.