We All Float Down Here
Chris Kavan - wrote on 09/13/17
I have a deep appreciation for It - the book is my second-favorite Stephen King novel (The Stand will always win, by a hair) and the 1990 adaptation featuring the unforgettable performance from Tim Curry is still one of the better King adaptations there has been. When I heard they were coming around to make a new version, I was a bit skeptical, even hesitant, but when that first trailer dropped, I was sold and Andrés Muschietti has created the definitive version of It, and It is very good.
The film updates the setting from the 1950s in the book to 1989. It hits close to home, both in that Stranger Things (penned by the Duffer Brothers, who were in early talks to direct It) has brought about a new 80s revival and the fact that I myself was around the same age as the characters in the movie and come from a small town (no murderous clowns or mass disappearances that I'm aware of, however). This is a good choice, and it allows for some great references (New Kids on the Block, Nightmare on Elm Street and such). But is also adds to the underlying horror - especially when it comes to the town of Derry, Maine. You see, the true horror of It is not Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard in a supremely disturbing performance), but what Pennywise (or the evil that inhabits its body) does to the town itself. While adults seem mostly absent from the film, when you do see them they are either uncaring, abusive or creepy - all that and a murderous shape-shifting entity that likes to eat kids.
But while It does certainly focus on the horror, there is another side. Like a mix of The Goonies and Stand By Me, it's also a coming-of-age tale, and It does this better than even the horror aspect. The reason this works so well starts with the casting. It's been a long time that such a large, younger cast has impressed me this much. Finn Wolfhard (also of Stranger Things fame) plays the wiseass of the Loser's Club, Richie Tozier, and gets some of the best lines. Jaeden Lieberher is also spot-on as the stuttering leader of the group, Bill Denbrough, who wants nothing more than to find out what really happened to his little brother, Georgie, who, like so many other Derry children, has gone missing. Jeremy Ray Taylor plays the rotund new-in-town and somewhat socially awkward Ben Hanscom. But the true standout is Sophia Lillis, the lone female of the group, who deals with rumors about her so-called promiscuity while also dealing with an abusive father. Jack Dylan Grazer was also a great find as the motor-mouthed hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak while Chosen Jacobs plays the lone black member and Wyatt Oleff is the Jewish Stanley Uris. All of these "Losers" have something in common - one, they are all bullied or targeted by local tough Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his crew and, two, they know something is rotten in Derry.
The cast works great together - not just how they talk, but the way they talk. It's natural in a way that is so hard to capture, and it works great. Plus, they cuss, you know kids cuss at the time, and I'm glad they let them do it here. But the film would not work without a great villain and Skarsgard nails the part of Pennywise, that smile, those eyes, that laugh - it's creepy cranked up to 11 and gives you another reason to hate clowns (sorry for people who actually play clowns for a living - it's not fair). The film does a great job of presenting some other visual horrors - a wickedly creepy painting come to life (with echoes of Muschiett's previous film, Mama), a leprous hobo, a sick that spews a geyser of blood, rotting bodies come to life - gone are the teenage werewolf, creature from the black lagoon, crawling eye and massive bird - the golden age horror icons from the book are gone, but replaced with something even scarier.
The movie is very good, but even with its two-hour plus run time, there could have been more. I wish the Bowers character was more developed. He comes across as an unhinged bully, for sure, but other than a very quick glimpse into his home life, we never really get a reason behind his aggression. Likewise, I wish we got to spend more time with some of the Losers, especially Jacobs Mike Hanlon. And, for what it's worth, while the film was overall creepy, it did lack a big scare moment for me - nothing that truly stands out, other than the indelible image of Pennywise, of course.
All in all, It is the Stephen King adaptation I have been waiting for. The Dark Tower was a major disappointment but this - this delivered in more ways than I could have imagined and I can't wait to see what happens in the second part.