‘IT’ Review: A Stephen King Adaptation Full Of Horror, Humor & Heart

Stephen King It Pennywise Bill SkarsgardAn appropriately-timed 27 years after the famous 1990 TV mini-series, director Andy Muschietti delivers a brand new take on Stephen King’s insanely popular novel It. When children start to go missing in the small town of Derry, Maine, seven misfit youths realize that strange things are afoot. The kids, who call themselves “The Losers’ Club,” set out to put a stop to the carnage perpetrated by the terrifying clown known as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).

I’ll be honest, I was not looking forward to this film when it was first announced. Horror remakes are a dime a dozen these days and they are almost never any good. I much prefer original horror films, which have been slowly starting to make a comeback after over a decade of terrible remakes, with such recents hits as The Conjuring, Don’t Breathe and Get Out. However, my outlook drastically changed when I saw the first trailer for It. This film looked like it could finally take a recognizable horror property and breathe fresh life into it. So, is It actually one of the rare horror remakes worth checking out? Read on to find out. This review is spoiler-free!

First and foremost, the single best thing about the film is the young cast — the kids that make up the Losers Club. These kids were charming, funny, and most importantly, great actors. They were equally adept at pulling off the terror that they are supposed to be feeling during some of the scarier moments and the true acting chops required for the emotional ones. You genuinely fall in love with these kids, which is always really important for a horror film where you have to truly care about the protagonists, because otherwise, the danger opposing them means nothing, no matter how high the stakes. The cast Muschietti has assembled here is phenomenal. There is not a weak link in the bunch.

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Jaeden Lieberher was excellent as the Losers’ leader, Bill Denbrough. The stutter is not an easy thing to pull off, but Lieberher manages it quite well. I also really liked Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hanscom. Growing up a heavy kid, I found it really easy to relate to him, however, I do wish that there was a bit more to his character than just that. There are strengths that his character has in the novel that weren’t really touched upon here, and those things would have been nice to explore, especially since they will no doubt be touched upon in the sequel. Still, Taylor excelled at pulling off the character’s awkwardness, especially in scenes shared with Beverly. Chosen Jacobs was great as Mike Hanlon, if not a little underserved. This character’s role in the sequel is an important one, and while I do think all the necessary traits are there, I would have liked to have seen him get the chance to solidify the bonds with the rest of the cast a little more. His family life is also the most drastically different from that of the source material, but I felt it served its purpose in the film’s story.

I wasn’t the least bit shocked to see that some of my favorite characters from the book were among my favorites in the film. Sophia Lillis was wonderful as Beverly Marsh, and had some of the strongest acting moments, I feel. I did have an issue or two with her characterisation (from a writing standpoint, not acting), but I’ll circle back around to that in a moment. Finn Wolfhard was absolutely hilarious as the group’s resident jokester Richie Tozier, easily the funniest character in the film. Wolfhard was the only young actor in the film (hell, perhaps the only actor in the film period, aside from Bill Skarsgård) that I’ve ever even seen in anything else before, but it was nice to see that his character here was a far cry from his Stranger Things role. One character that actually surprised me quite a bit in the film, a character that wasn’t a particular favorite of mine in the book, was the littlest Loser, Eddie Kaspbrak, played by Jack Dylan Grazer. This kid was fantastic. He was really funny and had such an excellent screen presence. Of all of the kids, Grazer was the standout for me.

Finally, I thought Wyatt Oleff did a fine job as Stanley Uris, but this character was my least favorite Loser in the book, mini-series, and now this new film. However, this is through no fault of the actor’s, but moreso in the writing of the character, going back to the original novel. I’ve always felt that Stan Uris is the least developed of the seven kids, but fans of the book and mini-series will know why that is. He did have one moment, though, that was completely in character for Stan that made me chuckle, in which all the other kids dropped their bikes on the ground one by one before Stan, always the neat and tidy one, took the extra time to prop his up on its kickstand. It’s little moments like these for all of these characters that made the young cast work as well as they did. I felt like each character got just the right amount of moments that harkened back to the source material to make them all ring true. I might have wanted a few more of these moments or defining traits, but there’s only so much time.

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The final major piece of the cast puzzle is Pennywise the Dancing Clown, played in this film by Bill Skarsgård. A clown is scary enough, but one that can discern your greatest fear and bring it to life before your very eyes is the stuff of nightmares. I was nervous about how the actor would do, as I was decidedly not a fan of his Netflix series Hemlock Grove and his screentime was limited in the only other film I’ve seen him in, Atomic Blonde. There is no question that Tim Curry’s highly-regarded portrayal of Pennywise is iconic, so Skarsgård had some enormous clown shoes to fill (pun gleefully intended). That being said, I thought Skarsgård did a brilliant job in giving us a fresh, new take on the villain. It’s a very different take than that of Curry’s — from design to voice all the way down to the way he moved — but it worked all the same. Speaking of movement, one of the things that I found most effective about Pennywise, as far as the character’s creepiness is concerned, was the spastic, herky-jerky way he moved, especially whenever he was coming right at the kids (this Pennywise got mad hops too!). Additionally, I thought all of the visual effects worked incredibly well.

As a jaded horror fan that has been watching scary movies from an age far earlier than I should have, I didn’t find anything in the film particularly “scary,” but I will say it was genuinely creepy at times. It also got in a couple of good jump scares — one or two that even startled me. However, if you’re one of those filmgoers that gets genuinely unnerved by a good horror flick, I think you’re going to have a grand ol’ time. Tommy Lee Wallace’s mini-series instilled a deep-seated fear of clowns into millions of people around the world, but that’s nothing compared to the terror that this film will no doubt plant into the minds of a younger generation of viewers that are experiencing Stephen King’s world for the first time. For the most part, Tim Curry’s clown was just a clown, but Bill Skarsgård is a horrific, creepy ass murderous clown. One of the edges that this film has, versus the mini-series, is the advantage of its R-rating, which it takes full adantage of, both in terms of language and violence, as the opening scene establishes from the jump.

I’ve mentioned it a few time in this review, but I was actually pretty surprised by just how funny this film was, with numerous laugh-out-loud moments and lines of dialogue. Humor can be a great tension reliever in a horror movie, but I felt like the comedy here was even more prevalent than your average horror flick, which worked to its strength, not detriment. There was never anything out of place — every funny beat was absolutely true to the characters or the situation at hand. There was also a lot of heart in this film, with some real sweet and touching moments between the seven friends. It is kind of bittersweet knowing that the next time we’ll see them all, in the sequel, they won’t be the same adorable kids anymore.

For the most part, it seemed like anything from the novel that was used in the original 1990 mini-series was avoided in favor of other previously unused elements from the book, which I actually thought was pretty cool. Coming in at 1,138 pages, the novel is quite a lengthy one, so it actually made a lot of sense to me to touch on some of the stuff that we haven’t yet seen before on-screen. It did seem like the film jumped from scene to scene at a rather quick pace, but it sort of had to be done in such a way to cover as much ground as possible and hit all the required beats of the story. At 2 hours and 15 minutes, it’s a somewhat long film, but it doesn’t really feel it. I could have sat through another hour.

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There were a few liberties taken by the filmmaker in regards to the source material, and for the most part, those worked for me (and Stephen King too). One of the things that jumped out to me straight away after seeing the film was just how little a role the Barrens — which was a pivotal location to the original story — played in this version. I found that to be a bit peculiar, but ultimately forgivable, however, there are one or two differences here and there that I did take issue with, the biggest being something that happens to Beverly in the third act that turns her more into a damsel in distress rather than the strong, proactive character that she was in the rest of the film, as well as in the same scenes in the book. I normally wouldn’t even have a problem with events playing out differently in the adaptation like this, if I didn’t think it had a negative impact on the character involved, and in this case and a few others, I felt it did. The absence of Ben’s aforementioned strengths was another.

On the other hand, there are some changes made that were more than welcome for me. For example, I was glad that we didn’t learn too much about what “It” actually is and where it comes from. This stuff is covered in the book, but my usual rule of thumb is the less we know about horror villains, the better. There’s more, but I’d have to dive into spoiler territory, so I’ll leave that for another article.

Overall, I was thouroughly pleased with this adaptation. Finally, a Stephen King novel done justice on the big screen. It’s been far too long since we’ve had one of those. It might not be 100-percent faithful to the source material, but it is where it counts the most: the horror, the right balance in tone and most importantly, the characters. I had a few issues with It, but nothing that impacted my overall enjoyment of the film. The fact that this is only Andy Muschietti’s second feature film (after his 2013 horror-thriller Mama) is quite remarkable. I can’t wait to see what the director does with the sequel, which will not only explore the Losers’ return to Derry as adults to once again take on “It,” but will also feature flashbacks to the children as well, something that I’m really looking forward to after seeing how well the young cast performed here. For Stephen King fans, horror fans, ’80s fans, or just fans of great storytelling, this one is for you.

Score: 8.5/10

It hits theaters September 8, 2017.

10 Stephen King Adaptations Hollywood Needs To Get Right

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Stephen King ItWith The Dark Tower and It, two of King’s most famous and beloved works, reaching the big screen, it feels like the gates are opening on a new age of Stephen King adaptations

Already we’ve seen 1) a new Carrie movie, 2) Under the Dome and 11/22/63 get TV adaptations 3) Netflix’s upcoming Gerald’s Game, 4) a TV series based on the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, 5) Josh Boone looks to make Revival his follow-up to X-Men: The New Mutants, 5) a new version of Hearts in Atlantis is in the works (just called Hearts) and 6) a Cujo remake, with the amazing title of C.U.J.O. Even Cell got made, plus a personal favorite of mine The Mist is back in the form of a new Syfy series airing later this year (based on both the original novella and Frank Darabont’s superb 2007 film).

Our age of cinematic universes feels tailor-made for the world-renowned author. King is known not only for his productivity but for how his stories interlock together in the same universe (multiverse, if you want to get specific). His entire oeuvre is connected by characters, locations, and events, all centered around the literal and figurative Dark Tower, the structure and book series sit at the center of King’s worlds. Of course, no one entity owns the rights to all of King’s works, so we won’t be seeing, say, Pennywise the Dancing Clown say hi to Idris Elba’s gunslinger in a movie anytime soon, but it speaks to King’s continued relevance.

There are, of course, the adaptations that are sacrosanct and need to no update, plus others where we are simply waiting to see if they happen. Speaking of Darabont, he delivered a trilogy of amazing King adaptations in my opinion between The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist. Rob Reiner also mastered the artform, giving us Stand by Me and Misery. There’s already a perfectly-good The Dead Zone movie and TV show. The Tommyknockers and Desperation got the miniseries treatment in 1991 and 2006, respectively. The latter came with a teleplay by King himself, while the former was announced for a new miniseries back in 2013 along with Rosemary’s Baby, the failure of which may have something to do with the radio silence since the announcement. The Shining is actually not one, with King famously disliking the Stanley Kubrick film enough to make a miniseries of his own to “correct” the record (and a Shining prequel is first on our list).

While some works defy or seek re-adaptation, the breadth of the man’s work means there’s plenty of new stuff to mine in the coming years as well. Click Next to learn which to watch out for!

Honorable mentions: The Dark Half, Dolores Claiborne, Apt Pupil, Dreamcatcher

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Jeff Grantz

Jeff Grantz

Jeff Grantz is an Atlanta-based writer, filmmaker and host of The Amazing Nerdiverse Podcast (on iTunes and YouTube).