Stephen King should feel proud today. The latest cinematic adaptation of his work-It-is a faithful reminder of why we go to the movies: to feel the adrenaline of fantasized entertainment while reminding us of an innocence we have abandoned too soon. Combining adventure and horror with the flavor of King's Stand By Me, It is the finest King adaptation since 1999's The Green Mile. Quite simply, it's a home run all around.
The story starts in Derry, Maine in October of 1988. Two brothers are working on a paper boat that the younger sibling will go outside and play in the rain with. Since Bill (Jaiden Lieberher) is sick, he can't join young Georgie (Jackson Robert-Scott) in this adventure. When Georgie loses his new toy in the sewer, he sees a menacing face staring back up at him from the drain, none other than the clown faced Pennywise (brilliantly conveyed by Bill Skarsgaard).
Let's just say that It wastes no time in establishing its horror roots and loyalty to the book. Pennywise isn't just here for a kid or two. Every 27 years, he returns to the city that horrified him as a child to prey on the entire population of children. As he puts it, "he feasts on your flesh by feeding on your fears). For Bill, it's the painful memory of his lost brother. For Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff), it's a scary woman in a painting. For Eddie Kasprak (Jack Dylan Grazer), it's his overbearing mother who maybe treats him a little too special. Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) talks too much. Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) has painful memories of a fire, while Ben Hanscrom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is an isolated brainiac.
Together, the group bands together to take on Pennywise, who is the manifestation of all their fears. While Freddy Kruegger attacked you in your dreams and Michael Myers simply chased his victims, Pennywise finds out what scares you and uses it to his advantage. When the boys aren't chasing evil clowns, they fawn over the beautiful Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis). While it's not your average coming of age tale, It has a focus that most films from this genre simply lack.
What I love about It was the fact that it really transports you back in time to the eighties and lays on the references with ease. Ben secretly loves New Kids on the Block while being a new kid in Derry. The clothing, music, and style of storytelling harkens back to when movies didn't rely on special effects or over the top sequences to convey action in a horror film. Like Pennywise, It just centers in on our most simplest fears.
The Stranger Things comparisons are legit, with a group of friends battling evil in order to protect their town and make a friend or two in the process. For the overweight and nerdy Ben, he falls in love with Beverly, but also binds himself to the group. Watching this movie made me think about running around South City with my best friends playing make believe and creating memories. Without trying too hard, It takes you back to your childhood when monsters and bikes were our world, and not alarm clocks and laundry.
Andy Muschietti directed the lukewarm 2013 Jessica Chastain horror film, Mama, but finds a better home for his skills here. The cinematography and scene sequencing are expertly crafted, framing Derry like any small town you've driven through for visual pleasure, but never really wanted to stay too long due to the history. For a 135 minute movie, the editing is quite crisp. I never found myself staring at my watch waiting for a halftime break to use the restroom. This is a movie where you hold it until the end.
Normally, I am not a horror film guy, but Muschietti and a band of screenwriters including True Detective's Cary Fukunga don't allow the gory aspects of the story to overshadow the humanistic tones of the real plot. The kids are each well developed and you care for them while knowing who they are, so it helps when their lives are threatened.
What makes It special is the cast of kids and Skarsgaard. Lieberher is a standout among the kids, conveying a load of emotion as a kid who can't let the death of his brother go. There's a few moments towards the end where you aren't just crying with Bill, but rooting for him to avenge his brother. At the core of the film, this is a story about one brother avenging the death of his young brother, with the help of friends. That's the connective tisuse of King's story.
King is a masterful storyteller who is able to combine the haunting parts of our lives into a scary story without placing a bow on the ending. I loved the part at the end of Stand by Me where you find out the fate of the kids in that film. Near the end of It, you wonder who these young souls will grow into. Perhaps, the It sequel in the works will dive into that.
I didn't read the book, but I did wince at the TV movie version that painted Curry as the ultimate bad clown. Thank goodness for Skarsgard, who takes a difficult role and makes it his own. It's very impressive work. From the first time you see Pennywise terrorize poor Georgie, you are hooked on the spell of the film, and that is due to the sinister yet unique feeling that Skarsgard produces. Throughout the film, you'll find yourself forgetting that this actor is the handsome brother of Alexander and son of Stellan, knowing him simply as a bad bad clown. Consider this a career defining role that won't soon let you go. I'll never look at clowns the same again.
It is the second Stephen King adaptation that Nicholas Hamilton has starred in this year (the other being The Dark Tower), but the young actor puts in good work here as the bully of the town who gets his due, Henry Bowers. Lillis definitely gives off a Molly Ringwald vibe as the woman in these boys lives. The kids are quite alright in this film. If they hadn't been as sharp, the end doesn't resonate as much.
Whether you've read the book or not, see this movie. If you aren't a fan of scary films, take a chance. The first five minutes may turn you inside out, but wait for the powerful moments towards the end. If you don't warm up at Ben's advances towards Beverly or get sucked into the desperate fight against Pennywise, I'd check your temperature. If you hate clowns, join the party and buy a ticket.
It gives you something different at the movies. A heartfelt horror flick with a pulse and a brain to match the thrills. I'm probably going to watch it a few more times, so I can get swept up in King's world again.
This is the best adaptation of his work in over 17 years. It is why you go to the movies. You will be filled with wonder and scared out of your mind simultaneously.
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