The film adaptations of Stephen King’s novels are numerous, and yet still when the news arrives that another film based on his works is being made audiences remain intrigued and anticipatory. Thus this latest version of IT, based on the 1986 novel and 1990 made for TV movie, showcases again why audiences flock to the work of Stephen King. As a literary work, the novel once more highlights the brilliance of its author, and now the 2017 film installment just confirms what we already knew.
On the surface, IT seems like just a pure outing of horror and screams, but like most of King’s work, the many themes and messages present reveal just how complex and intelligent a writer he is. Director Andy Muschietti and his screenwriters have captured the intelligence and complexity of this story wonderfully, in the process creating a solidly made and well-acted film.
In the town of Derry, Maine a mysterious demonic creature appears every 27 years preying on the town’s children and teenagers, often shape-shifting into the form of their greatest fears. Though IT frequently appears in the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, its morphing abilities and sadistic nature quickly erase any notion that this clown is for entertainment purposes. And so a group of young teens known as “The Losers Club” band together to confront the monster in the hopes of defeating it once and for all.
This movie is a very enjoyable outing especially for those who can appreciate the horror genre. But though its main genre classification falls under horror, IT has many elements in it that transcend simply horror. There is humor, love, friendship and even the philosophical theme of losing one’s innocence, especially childhood innocence. These many emotions enhance the film giving audiences the opportunity to not be tied down to just the sensation of fright. There are plenty of lighthearted moments and very funny dialogue from our protagonists that juxtapose the scenes of Pennywise; these serve not only to divert our attention from the ominous threat of IT but to really make “The Losers Club” very relatable to us. Indeed the dialogue is very genuine and portrays the types of conversations 13-year-olds would have very well.
The overarching theme of lost innocence is also ever-present with each of our characters confronting this reality in their own unique ways; while Pennywise is undoubtedly the main antagonist there are many other forms of evil that manifest themselves all contributing to the evaporation of the precious gift of childhood naivete. Thus the IT monster serves as an allegory to the many monsters in everyday life who strive to take away part of our goodness and innocence. It’s a classic theme and one that the director Muschietti and the screenwriters (Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman) have understood well.
Certainly, the cast have grasped this script and themes admirably and it is a pleasure to watch them on screen. This group of emerging young actors tackles their roles in “The Losers Club” excellently being both genuinely funny in their banter and bringing a level of emotional depth to their characters impressive for their ages. Whether it’s talking about sex or cowering in terror these young adults make the most of their roles. It is all played with an air of sweetness that makes their eventual fates all the more emotionally effective.
As for Pennywise, Swedish actor Bill Skarsgard creates an impressive incarnation of evil that is both horrifyingly hideous and comedic. He holds his own against great expectations and is wonderfully obscured by great makeup and digital effects. He also adds a real menacing physicality that makes him quite animalistic. Is it like Tim Curry’s performance? Curry is a bona fide scene stealer whose infectious personality enhance everything he does so it’s not totally fair to make a comparison between the two. Skarsgard has created his own version of this creature and has done so commendably, but he can never be Tim Curry. But that’s not a bad thing, for this Pennywise is something new and Curry’s interpretation will always remain classic. It is like comparing Cesar Romero’s to Heath Ledger’s Joker, both great yet different embodiments of an iconic character.
IT proves once more the everlasting significance of Stephen King’s output and is at once a frightening, funny and thought-provoking tale. With King’s story as a launchpad, the filmmakers and cast have taken a widely celebrated story and brought it to life in a very entertaining fashion. IT is a reaffirmation of good horror storytelling with brilliant sprinkles of everyday life. As an outing at the theatre it is certainly a bloody excursion, but one you’ll be glad to have partaken in.