IT has some clown sized shoes to fill. Pennywise the Clown has been etched into horror legend by Tim Curry thanks to his incredible performance in the 1990 made for TV classic. While it skews campy and a little cheesy now, it’s ruined many a childhood, including my own, when I first saw that bulbous headed clown pull little Georgie into a storm drain when I was just five years old.
2017’s IT gets off on the right foot from the start, by scrapping the formula of the TV movie and King’s novel, and frontloading the story with the kids - or The Losers Club - and leaving the adult stuff out aside for a second film. It has a double benefit of making things feel fresher, and also keeping the story tightly focused.
IT kicks off with the death of Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) at the hands of It (Bill Skarsgard). This is the catalyst for the events of the film, and the disparate members of the Losers Club come together in the first half, bonded by being outsiders, bonded by their fears of the bullies in their lives, and soon, their fear of It.
With the entire principal cast being kids, IT lives and dies on the performances of the young’uns at it’s centre, and boy do they do the film proud. Stand outs are Jaeden Lieberher as Bill Denbrough, the leader of the gang, and Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh, who has a number of standout moments.
IT is different from it’s predecessor in that it doesn’t aim for straight up horror. It seems to take a number of cues from Stranger Things, Netflix’s 2016 runaway 80’s inspired hit. In fact, this iteration of the film transplants the setting of Derry, Maine, to the eighties. There are a few pop culture references that come along with it, but nothing so grating to pull you out of the film. It works, and even readers of King’s massive tome would agree that Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) would definitely want to spend his summer trying to perfect the art of Street Fighter.
There’s no topping Tim Curry’s Pennywise, and director Andres Muschietti doesn’t try to. Skarsgard’s iteration of Pennywise is different. With a more victorian flavour to the costume, it seems more of a starving, wild animal rather than an evil jester. It still jokes and teases the children, but it’s eyes are unfocused, it drools when it speaks. You can see the ancient evil under the skin before it ever shows its rows and rows of razor sharp teeth.
The scares in IT are often it’s weakest parts, however. While there’s some startling special effects on display, a number of the scenes fall flat beyond the initial jump. There’s a sense of creeping dread throughout, but in many ways, the film feels like an adventure tinged with horror rather than an out and out screamfest.
It works to the benefit of the film, then, that the dialogue is so good, the Losers are so likeable, and the script brings all the disparate elements of King’s novel into a tightly wrapped, well packaged adventure. There’s a sense of terror but no sense of real peril, but it works. Like Stranger Things, the vibe isn’t of out and out horror or a torture porn flick with some CGI monsters. In some ways, the marketing of the movie is doing it a disservice, but point me to a marketing campaign that doesn’t.
Fans of the novel will enjoy the nods to the wider King universe, and the ways that the film swings away from the novel usually work in favour of the story - especially in excluding that one scene which has been discussed to death online.
The 2017 retelling of this story feels like it’s best adaptation yet. Even though it’s set in a different time period, if you’ve read the book, these versions of the Losers, and of Pennywise, feel ripped straight from your imagination when you first opened the hefty, thousand plus page tome. If you haven’t read the book, or seen the 1990 film, then you’re in for a real treat. Go see IT.