Whether or not you’re a true aficionado of the master of terror, it’s unlikely you’re not familiar with one of Stephen King’s most famous literary creations. IT has in fact become part of the pop culture zeitgeist – just like The Shining, Misery and Stand By Me – thanks to a screen adaptation that terrified many children of the ‘90s, including yours truly. Raise your hand if you still don’t get squeamish when thinking about Tim Curry in the iconic role of Pennywise the clown.
For this contemporary reiteration of King’s best-selling novel, however, the action moves from the small screen to the big one and the choice makes sense, given the cinematic scope of this epic horror classic. Whilst the 1990 miniseries remains an unforgettable genre staple for that time, earning cult status over the years, we’re glad to see the fictitious Maine town of Derry brought back to life with the production values that only the silver screen can allow.
If you’re one of the few people still unfamiliar with the story of the Losers Club and their fight for survival against a demonic creature haunting their hometown, all you need to know is that the thematic premise behind it all is fear itself. This group of young outcasts is in fact the latest target of a supernatural antagonist that feeds on its victims’ deepest, nightmarish fears. When children go missing in Derry and adults don’t pay attention, these friends take it upon themselves to handle the threat, albeit reluctantly.
What makes IT appealing to a wide and diversified audience to this day is the winning mix of coming-of-age tale and heart-pounding horror that, when executed at its best, is an unmistakable trademark of Mr. King’s prolific talent. Channeling ‘80s classics like The Goonies with the nightmarish visions and jump-scares of current fare like Insidious, director Andrés (Andy) Muschietti (2013’s Mama) has crafted an adaptation that won’t disappoint long-time fans and is bound to draw hoards of new ones.
Although the novel is set in the ‘60s, the filmmakers have moved the action back up to the ‘80s, jumping on the nostalgia bandwagon brought back into fashion by Netflix’s Stranger Things. Ever since the intense prologue, Muschietti doesn’t waste time to establish that we’re in for a disturbing thrill ride.
As the small town of Derry is battered by a relentless storm, awkward pre-teen and stutterer Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) – sick and bed-bound – makes a paper boat for his beloved little brother Georgie to play with. The little kid sneaks out of their suburban home, bracing the awful weather to make the boat float along the flooded streets but the makeshift toy winds up in a gutter. As he tries to rescue his beloved brother’s gift, a sinister-looking clown appears out of nowhere down in the gutter and you can imagine the eerie stuff that follows…
Nine months later, it’s the end of school and the start of summer and in the meantime more kids have gone missing. Bill can’t give in to the idea his little brother is dead and he obviously feels responsible. But whilst he obsesses about finding Georgie, in spite of his angry father’s request to accept the inevitable, Bill’s friends try to convince the boy to enjoy the summer. The group of nerdy boys, who are known at school as the Losers Club, the preferred victims of chief bully Henry Bowers (Captain Fantastic’s Nicholas Hamilton) and his goons, crave for some time off, away from their overbearing families.
Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) is a hypochondriac whose obese mother insists on keeping secluded, whilst Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) needs a break from his Rabbi father’s constant hustle about his lack of focus on religious education. Last but not least Richie, the group’s joker, played irresistibly by Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard, is most likely using his foul mouth and sex obsession as a coping mechanism, although we don’t get to meet his family.
Summer brings new additions to the nerdy gang, from the school’s “new kid” Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), an adorable bookworm with some extra pounds and a vein for romance, to the kid who lives on the outskirts of town, Mike (Chosen Jacobs). Although let’s be honest, the most notable and unlikely new member of the Losers Club is Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a pretty red-haired girl victim of nasty school gossip, who has to deal with the shallow reality of an abusive father.
Between their broken homes and having to constantly watch over their shoulders from the vicious Bowers and his thugs, the last thing these kids need is a terrifying supernatural entity trying to kidnap them and devour them. Yet, as they all start experiencing encounters with the sinister presence that keeps trying to lure them into its net by feeding on their fears, these seven friends soon connect the dots and realise that if they don’t do something about it, nobody will.
Brace yourselves for a tour-de-force rollercoaster ride as the Losers Club’s adventures unfold on-screen one set piece after another, getting bigger and scarier and not sparing the jumps. And get ready to forget about Tim Curry since Hemlock Grove’s Bill Skarsgård (the younger brother of True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård and son of legendary Stellan Skarsgård) redefines the iconic terrifying role, taking it to the next level with his chilling-to-the-bone mannerism.
What you should truly get ready for though is the emotional journey these characters face. Let down by their families, what these kids are up against is way more than the story’s supernatural threat. That, in the end, is a metaphor for growing up, having to face your deepest fears, find meaning and build a future against the many challenges life will pose. The message is clear: united by their friendship the kids have a shot at defeating an enemy that’s bigger than them but separation and isolation will only lead to their downfall.
In development since 2009, this newly-minted version of Stephen King’s novel had been recently picked up by Beasts Of No Nation and True Detective’s talented director Cary Fukunaga who had cast Briton-on-the-rise Will Poulter (Detroit) in the role of Pennywise. However, as it seems like routine these days, creative differences drove Fukunaga away and Poulter’s busy schedule clashed with the film’s shooting calendar under the newly appointed director. Even if we might still wonder why Fukunaga left the project, IT has wound up in safe hands with Muschietti.
The Argentinian filmmaker has perfectly captured the essence of Stephen King's literary masterpiece. His version is an entertaining homage to the ‘80s classics yet brings its own modern touch, handling the horror side with a genuinely disturbing Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise and a cast of more or less up-and-coming youngsters who are the true asset of the film. Some of these young actors are already semi-veterans like Jaeden Lieberher who exploded on the scene alongside Bill Murray in St. Vincent and recently confirmed his acting chops in Midnight Special and The Book Of Henry. However, most of them are at their first high-profile role and they all showcase the potential for brilliant careers ahead.
The Losers Club’s chemistry looks effortless on screen and they all succeed at portraying what’s unique and entertaining about each character. By the time credits roll we are left wanting for more, and since the over 1,300-page book flashes forward thirty years to the now adult Losers having to face ‘It’ once again, we hope that the in-the-works second chapter of this cinematic adaptation arrives soon. We can’t wait to float once more.
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