Much of Stephen King’s It, that massive tome of idiosyncratically 1980s terror, cannot hope to be replicated in film.
The 400-Word Review: It
By Sean Collier
September 11, 2017
The sprawling, multidimensional nature of the titular clown-beast can only be dealt with in writing; several of It’s incarnations would appear cartoonish if rendered seriously; much of the film’s sexual-awakening undertones could never (and should never) be actually replicated.
So the question with an adaptation of the novel — or, in the case of this It, half the novel — is this: How much of the mess can it overcome? How much can this massive, unwieldy, largely unfilmable book can be turned into a satisfying movie?
In this case: A lot! It overcomes a lot of the challenges before ... it, rising to the level of a satisfying and often scary thriller. Contrary to much of the hype and fan expectation (including, admittedly, my own), it does not rank among the best contemporary horror; that shouldn’t deter anyone, though.
The story is, essentially, The Goonies with stakes: A small-town group of misfits forms around Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), whose younger brother recently vanished during a rainstorm. After all the kids begin having terrifying visions — many involving a grinning, ravenous clown (Bill Skarsgård) — they begin reckoning with the thought that an evil force may be after them, and they may have to defeat it.
The cast is quite good; Skarsgård outdoes the iconic performance given by Tim Curry in the 1990 television version by more fully inhabiting the guttural, primal terror in the character of Pennywise. Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor and Finn Wolfhard give precocious, careful performances, shining among the young members of the cast.
It had a troubled production history, having been in development since 2009 and seeing Cary Fukunaga shifted from director to screenwriter (along with Chase Palmer and Gary Dauberman). Despite the chaos, director Andy Muschietti creates a compelling world and consistent tone; the screenplay establishes the characters well.
The film does eventually devolve into something of a Marvel Universe take on the story; the kids overcome certain obstacles and work together, yada yada yada. The fear promised in the early going does not hold up through the final frame; the more the kids come face-to-face with Pennywise (and the more that digital effects are employed), the less effective the movie is. Still, any success is significant with a project this difficult — and the scares are there.
My Rating: 7/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark