Directed by Andy Muschietti.
Starring Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, and Bill Skarsgard.
In the small town of Derry, a group of friends find themselves locked into a fight for lives with a terrifying creature that has terrorised the community for decades, possibly centuries, feeding off the fear of its victims.
If you’ve been following October Horrors since it started back in 2016, you’ll probably know that I’m a big Stephen King fan. So I was overjoyed when last year seemed to mark something of a comeback for King in terms of film and TV adaptations, although the quality was less than consistent often ranging from the good to, um, The Dark Tower.
However, there was one film that stood up above all the others last year. Above, not just the other King adaptations, but above all other horror films. That film was, of course, the long-awaited big screen adaptation of King’s epic horror classic IT, a film that has now cemented itself as one of, if not the, most successful horror films ever made.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that King’s weighty tome about a demonic clown tormenting kids was brought to life. We all remember the beloved but rather goofy 1990 TV version (which I looked at last year) with Tim Curry in the title role. While the miniseries version was a noble attempt to compress the 1000+ pages of King’s work into a workable two-part film, it still felt lacking in many areas with the overall story being cut down to fit the limited runtime. It’s a weird thought that even at 3 hours long, the miniseries still felt too short.
Thankfully, the maker’s big screen version of IT have taken heed of the issues that the miniseries faced and has managed to improve upon them all. Instead of adapting the full novel and its flashback-heavy narrative, the film-makers wisely adapt only half of the novel, focusing on the heroic Losers club and their initial childhood encounter with the titular creature.
This approach ensures that very little is lost in translation from page to screen aside from a few changes, with the film able fully develop the characters without having to cut out key moment to fit a limited runtime. The decision to focus on only half the novel’s plot also keeps it focused and crucially keeps you engaged and keeps the scares feeling suitably exciting. After all the scares don’t really work if you know who survives to have flashbacks about them.
What also works, at least for the most part, is the film’s scares, with the film-makers taking full advantage of the freedom of the big screen to bring the horror of the story to life without needing to cut back. For instance, while the original miniseries could only suggest what Pennywise does to Georgie after their fateful meeting, this version shows the creature violently biting off a child’s arm. It’s a shocking moment that effectively sets the tempo for the rest of the film, one in which no one, not even a child, is safe from a grisly demise.
The film is full of great scary moments, too many to list here, and while some do rely a tad much on jump scares most of them work well at suitably leaving viewers uneasy and a few of them are certainly frightening enough to raise a few screams. My personal favourite moment (among many) would possibly be the intense mid-film confrontation between The Losers and It, with the often sinister mocking tone of Pennywise as he torments his victims being deeply unsettling. I can’t help but feel terrified when Pennywise, almost sounding upset, shrieks “Isn’t this real enough for you Billy?”.
I also have to give the film credit for not shying away from some even darker subjects, with the scenes between Beverly Marsh and her abusive father being easily some of the most uncomfortable moments of the film, with the way he looks, touches and speaks about her being deeply disturbing.
What work’s best about the film is that, outside of the darker elements, it works as a rather sweet coming of age story about friendship. Some of the film’s best moments are of the Loser’s Club just messing around and having fun on their summer break. With the film beautifully capturing all those familiar childhood moments, we all might have had, such as dealing with our first crushes, maybe a run in with a bully or two or jumping into a quarry with your buddies. It’s all these nice moments that really allow us to become attached to the characters and come to care for them as the horror rises.
Jaeden Lieberher and Sophie Lillis are arguably the film’s breakout stars as Bill Denbrough and Beverly Marsh respectively, with the young actors managing to navigate the complex and dark backstories of the characters (especially Lillis) with the kind of grace and maturity that frankly is sometimes lacking from adult actors.
While Lieberher and Lillis are the standouts, that is not to ignore the work of their co-stars, all of whom give great performances, with their excellent chemistry allowing for some wonderful moments of humour and heart-warming comradery. I also have to give pointers to young Jackson Robert Scott for making me even more terrified of children than I am already with his sometimes scary performance as Georgie Denbrough.
Of course, the biggest draw for this film was always going to be Pennywise the Dancing Clown, with the unenviable task falling to Bill Skarsgard who manages nails the dark nature of the character and then some. Skarsgard wisely doesn’t attempt to mimic Tim Curry’s more comedic performance and instead opts for a much darker and more versatile approach to the character.
I like how Skarsgard regularly alters the pitch of his voice, with his veering between a stereotypical high pitched clown voice and the much darker growl of the demon lurking under the skin being impressive to watch. I also appreciate the physical approach that Skarsgard takes to the role and the way he adopts sometimes more animalistic body language which serves to make the character feel much more monstrous and vicious.
All in all, it’s a fantastic performance that is almost certain to rank highly in horror villain retrospectives to come.
It is the Stephen King adaptation we’ve all been waiting for since 1986 and thankfully it delivers. With stellar acting from the cast, a faithful and terrific adaptation of the novel’s dark but sometimes heart-warming story and some great big screen scares, It is one horror film that is bound to be a firm favourite on many a Halloween viewing lists. Here’s hoping that next year’s sequel manages to keep up the momentum, until then check this one out.
Scare Rating: 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★