Based on the 1986 novel of the same name and adapted into a memorable miniseries in 1990, Stephen King’s tale of sinister clowns, rite of passage and orgies has finally made the next logical step – showcase Pennywise the Dancing Clown to the world on the silver screen. With heavy influence from The Nightmare on Elm Street and The Goonies, Andres Muschietti does faithful justice to It, defying the odds of recent mediocre Stephen King based filmography to bring a movie piling on fright, heart and laughter.
In the summer of 1989 in Derry, Maine, a group of outcast preteens known as ‘The Losers Club’ fight against an immortal, shape-shifting entity that takes on different forms depending on its victim’s (primarily children) worst fears. This monstrosity, known as Pennywise or ‘It’ by the group, is responsible for the disappearance of dozens of children in the town. The creature comes into personal contact with them and their loved ones. In seeking to destroy it, they are forced to confront their own personal demons.
Granted that there are seven characters in The Losers Club and carving out an arc for all of them would be impossible, Muschietti still spends a great deal of time building them up. The amount of time he employs for the development is justified as there is a sense of strong camaraderie within the group and it is backed up by indisputably great performances across the board from the child actors. A lot of the maturation doesn’t occur in their own homes or personal lives so we don’t get to see their condition outside of the group. Muschietti instead dedicates most of the time when they are together as a group. Their fears are introduced and their adversities are overcome as a group. That is perfectly fine because at the end of the day, the film achieves its character-oriented goal of making the audience be on their side of the story and empathize with their plight. Their inexperience with life and the lack of trust from adults due to their age also naturally make them the underdogs and really, the entire premise of the group runs synonymously with the bunch from Netflix’s Stranger Things.
It is entertainment of the highest quality and startling from start to finish. More so when Benjamin Wallsfisch’s spine-tingling score is unabashedly belted in when Pennywise begins to warp the group’s reality and wreck mental havoc. But when you realize the need to pull yourself away from Pennywise’s terrifying in-your-face type of provocation which the movie conjures up to a great extent, you start to pinpoint minor narrative flaws which seem to be very quickly covered up by a slew of emotions effectively forced onto the audience. A prime example would be the illogical choices made by the characters – at multiple points in the film, the group emphatically agrees to stay together at all times to have a better chance of defeating the malevolent being. As one would expect, the group gets split up more often than they are told not to and it leads to the next preordained scare. These are the types of cheap mistakes the film repeats which are reminiscent of budget summer horror flicks and for a movie so well-done in other aspects, it could and should have been easily avoided.
As the Club makes the slow but steady transition from pubescent preteen to adulthood during the course of the film, they learn more about themselves and this coming-of-age is aided with the addition of a girl to their clique. Suffice to say, their growing testosterone levels were generously tickled by that. When you talk about the loss of innocence in these children, one filthy thought definitely comes to mind – the original book’s infamous scene where Bev has to sexually please all the boys in order to ‘unify’ the club. On one hand, it was partially disappointing to not see it played out on screen. After all, it was in Fukunaga’s original script and the reaction from today’s ‘PC’ society would be controversial and all the more intriguing. On the other hand, it would just be a straight out weird exposition to bring to life as it edges towards child pornography given the characters’/actors’ age. It wouldn’t see the light of day in any commercial film.
What It does have though is the usage of profanities sprinkled abundantly throughout the film, providing some blunt comedic relief to an otherwise tonally grim movie. This foul-mouthed honesty from the children might seem insignificant but it very accurately encapsulates the epitome of childhood adolescence, bar parental supervision. Because quite frankly as you might have experienced it yourself when you were younger, a preteen simply does not hang around with his friends with the words of a pristine angel when he is encountering joy, anger, or sadness, let alone when being tormented by an evil killer clown. It provides a climate of realism to the plot and it is brilliant that the film embraces that fact of life head on.
It is without a doubt one of the best, if not the best Stephen King adaptations in recent years. A fresh spin on the horror genre and a great effort from Muschietti in bringing the book to the big screen, It shouldn’t be looked down for its few shoddy mistakes hidden swiftly by well-placed blankets of trepidation but rather the new sense of terror, chill and anxiety it brings to the table. Pennywise is the brand new face of the genre and one thing is for sure – the next chapter of his frivolous prancing, bizarre head-banging and shit-eating grin will be highly anticipated by audiences. Annabelle and other icons of horror should take a page off of him.
It is … A SPECTACLE
Director: Andres Muschietti
Screenplay by: Cary Fukunaga, Chase Palmer, Gary Dauberman
Based on: It by Stephen King
Starring: Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Jaedan Liebrher, Bill Skarsgard, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Wyatt Olef, Jack Grazer
Running time: 135 minutes