IT (2017) Review: Terror Floats
As evidenced earlier this summer, Stephen King adaptations can be relatively hit and miss. King’s writing style, characters and subtext to his stories can sometimes be a bit difficult to properly translate to film; which is why only about half of his adaptations are really any good, while the others are either a garbled mess (The Tommyknockers) or a half assed attempt that horrendously misses the point (The Dark Tower). Thankfully, this year’s adaptation of the beloved novel IT is in neither of those latter categories despite it spending nearly a decade in development hell!
Andres Muschietti (Mama) directs the film, and pretty well knocks it out of the park for it being only his second credited feature film. For a film that’s 2 hours and 15 minutes long, he keeps the pace tight enough that you don’t quite feel it’s run time. He balances nicely between the use of jump scares and simply holding on certain shots and drawing out the tension and the creepiness. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung worked wonderfully with Muschietti’s style. There’s an especially nice touch to the way they lit the homes of the Loser’s Club. Everything was dark and dreary in their houses, but the light coming in from windows and doors was bright and hopeful – giving the sense that these houses were more prisons than homes. It was a nicely subtle touch to further cement the idea that these kids wanted to be anywhere but home.
As I said earlier, IT‘s development lasted nearly 10 years, which means that the film managed to gather a few writers. Chase Palmer really has nothing on his resume noteworthy or memorable, and Gary Dauberman is best known for the mildly successful Annabelle series of horror films. But the real stand out is Cary Fukunaga, who wrote, directed and was cinematographer on the highly lauded Beasts of No Nation. At one point, Fukunaga was set to also direct the film, but ended up having creative differences with the studio and left the project. According to Muschietti, Palmer and Dauberman rewrote Cary’s script, but kept the updated timeline and general style Cary envisioned. I don’t know how much of an influence Cary’s original draft had on the rewrites, but from what I’ve read about it, I’d love to get my hands on it! All in all, though, the script didn’t seem to suffer for it.
Updated to the late 1980’s from the book’s 1950’s setting, the film still manages to keep that timeless Americana feel through most of it, with the few exceptions of 1980’s vehicles (like the Firebird) and the white trash metal-head with a mullet style of the town bullies – instead of the 1950’s greasers of the novel. One of the great things the script nails, too, is the dialogue. These kids talk and act like real kids – none of the Leave it to Beaver BS (Gee golly willikers!). They swear like sailors and joke about each other’s moms and sisters in the way you probably remember you and your friends did as you rode bikes around town at 12 years old.
And speaking of the kids, kudos to the casting director, because they hit the nail on the head with these kids! Their chemistry with each other feels natural and real. There are a couple shaky moments here and there, but for 95% of the time, these kids are on point. Jaeden Lieberher plays Bill Denbrough, the leader of the Loser’s Club whose brother Georgie went missing a year prior. Jeremy Ray Taylor plays the overweight and bookish Ben Hanscom. Sophia Lillis is Bev Marsh, the lone girl in the Loser’s Club who was abused by her father. Despite a funny reference to Molly Ringwald, she actually looks a lot like a young Amy Adams! If they don’t cast Adams in Chapter 2, the casting director will have failed!
Finn Wolfhard (great name), who you may know as Mike from Stranger Things, practically steals every scene he’s in as Richie Tozier. He also does a great job in showing some range, as he doesn’t allow his character here to be anything like his character on Stranger Things. Wyatt Oleff as Stan Uris, the rabbi’s son, is probably the weakest of the group, performance wise. That’s not to say he’s bad, but there were a couple of moments where he didn’t quite deliver. Chosen Jacobs plays Mike Hanlon, the token black kid of the group, who falls in with the Losers as they realize they all face the same enemy. And rounding out the Loser’s Club is Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak, a hypochondriac thanks to the fear mongering of his overbearing mother (a favorite staple of Stephen King’s writings). Again, these kids did a wonderful job, and it’s in large part to their performances that the film does as well as it does, since a vast majority of the film hinges on their interactions and chemistry.
Of course, we can’t not mention the villains of the film. Pennywise the Clown is not the only force of evil at play here, as Nicholas Hamilton runs amok through the town of Derry, Maine as Henry Bowers – the psychotic town bully. This kid plays violently unhinged very well, and what we see on screen is pretty much a serial killer in the making. He’s not too over the top, but he pushes the right buttons with his performance to truly make you hate him. As for the titular (so to speak) character, Bill Skarsgard turns in a hell of a creepy performance. When the camera simply holds on him and he just runs with it, he’s truly unsettling. He manages to create something totally apart from the performance Tim Curry gave us back in the 90’s, and still holds up to or even surpasses it!
With a solid cast, great writing, incredible directing and cinemtography, this is a must see. Of the two Stephen King adaptations that have come out this year, this is by far the better of them (I’m not counting The Mist, as it’s TV.) I only hope they keep this ball rolling for Part 2 and continue to fire on all cylinders.