Stephen King’s It is back in the public consciousness once again following the release of Andy Muschietti’s brand new adaptation of the popular horror novel.
It’s 27 years since the first version aired on television – a four-hour, two-part special that boasted some pretty memorable moments (Tim Curry’s Pennywise the Clown) alongside some slightly patchier parts (the concluding battle.)
So how does the new version of Stephen King’s IT measure up? In some respects, Muschietti’s film is the superior vision of the original novel but in other ways, it falls into the same old traps when it comes to horror and filmmaking as a while.
Here are three things Stephen King’s It gets right and four things it gets wrong.
Wrong: The 1980s Setting
Netflix’s popular homage-fest, Stranger Things, undoubtedly owed something to Stephen King’s Loser’s Club, but in a weird turn of events, it feels like this version of It has taken some inspiration from the hit sci-fi series.
What other explanation is there for the decision to move the setting from 1950s to 1980s Derry, which feels like an excuse to stuff as many pop culture references into to proceedings as possible (Were all the New Kids On The Block gags really necessary?) Casting Stranger Things alumni Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozier hardly helped things either.
It all amounts to an unwanted distraction and one that adds little to the film, other creating some gapping holes in the plot. It made more sense that the pattern of these child murders would not be noticed in the 1950s, but the 1980s? Please.
Right: The Opening Scene
The opening scene centering on the shock death of central protagonist Bill Denbrough’s younger brother Georgie needed to be just right given the sensitive material (the death of a child) and while this version of It get’s plenty wrong, this particular scene is vastly superior to the one from the previous miniseries.
Shot in pour rain and making full use of Pennywise (more on him later) and a bigger special effects budget, everything from the drain-based clown’s ever-stretching arms to the kill itself is suitably terrifying and sets the film up nicely. It also remains gory without taking things too far.
Wrong: Mike Hanlon
The only African-American member of the Loser’s Club may be a periphery figure of sorts to the main bulk of the action but he plays an important part in King’s book, narrating the story’s interludes, which are told from his first-person perspective.
Hanlon’s role in proceedings is also better handled in the 1990 miniseries, where he plays an important and more prominent role in proceedings, even if he’s not the central focus. Unfortunately, he’s rendered more of a secondary character in this version of the story. There’s still time to fix this problem with the sequel though.
Right: The Loser’s Club
While the character of Mike Hanlon is largely sidelined in this adaptation, it’s difficult to fault the casting of the Loser’s Club with Jaeden Lieberher as Bill and Sophia Lillis as Beverly arguably the two standout performers from the bunch – though they also have the most material to work with. It’s when they are brought together as a unit that the film really shines – you believe in their friendship and the shared plight.
Finn Wolfhard is also fine as Richie Tozier, the wisecracking member of the group, though the character’s plethora of jokes was always likely to make him a fan favourite. Seth Green was equally adept in the role back in 1990.
Credit also goes to the casting director who put together the gang of bullies that torment the group throughout the film – they are the right mix of hostility and juvenile innocence.
Right: Pennywise The Clown
There’s little doubt as to who the film’s star performer is though. Tim Curry may have been unforgettable in the role of Pennywise but Bill Skarsgard’s incarnation is a whole other level of brilliant.
Skarsgard brings a menacing physicality to the role moving around scenes with sinister, almost child-like, glee and injecting every line with palpable dread. He’s like a demented child-killer version of Bugs Bunny, complete with teeth and a demented glint in his eye. It must be said that an extra layer is added to the role through the impressive special effects, which have finally given us a version of Pennywise who is equally as scary in monster form as he is in clown makeup.
Wrong: The Horror
All of which makes the film’s other noticeable failing that much more frustrating – it’s just not that scary. While the miniseries drip fed viewers glimpses of Pennywise here and there, the new version feeds viewers Pennywise by the bucket load. There’s no pacing or tension to anything, with blood, balloons, spooky houses and clowns thrown at the screen with wild abandon.
Hardly a scene goes by in which one of the gang doesn’t have some sort of near-miss or minor scare involving their foes. One of these encounters is frightening, but the more we see of Pennywise, the more he loses his allure and that mysterious sense of dread that accompanies any good horror movie monster.
These encounters do little to move the story forward either, instead operating like music video-style vignettes of dread rather than anything substantial. With so few actual deaths in the movie, the filmmakers would have been better served by holding back on Pennywise and cracking up the tension in other ways. It would have made the few genuine scares in the book and film that much more effective.
Wrong: Another Two-Parter
At close to two hours, this version of It felt far too long. Which begs the question: why make it a two-part film in the first place? The events of the book could have undoubtedly been streamlined into one two-hour film.
Box office receipts are undoubtedly the reason behind this decision but the move would have offered up a chance to trim the flabby story on offer to create a tighter, more focused affair with more actual scares. Alas, fans must now wait for a part two.
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