Stephen King adaptations are a dime a dozen. These range from classic adaptations such as “The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile,” “Carrie,” “The Shining” and even “The Running Man” to shoddier adaptations such as “The Langoliers,” “The Tommyknockers” and the recently released “The Dark Tower.”
“It,” one of King’s most popular novels, has come to the screen for the second time, following a classic miniseries from 1990. After several years of being in development hell, going through several actors and a director, Cary Fukunaga (“Beasts of No Nation,”) the new director, Andy Muschietti (“Mama,”) succeeds in taking Fukunaga’s vision to a new level as he presents us with a film to incite both fear and other emotions.
“It” follows the story of a group of kids in 1989 in the town of Derry, Maine, consisting of Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), the leader, Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Bill’s foul-mouthed best friend, Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) the germaphobe and Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), the hypochondriac. The group also consists of newer members Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) and Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), who have been harassed for their weight, sexuality and race, respectively.
All have come together following individual encounters with a mysterious being terrorizing the townsfolk and going only by the name of “Pennywise the Dancing Clown” (Bill Skarsgard), whom the kids refer to simply as “It.” Armed only with their unity, the group ventures into the unknown to defeat the monstrous clown, who pits their worst fears against them so that they too shall “float” like his other victims.
The film quickly makes sure to let the audience understand that no creepiness and terror will be held back, and it’ll often be accompanied by crazed and demented humor. The opening sequence itself allows Skarsgard to demonstrate his prowess in providing scares and laughs throughout.
The technical aspects of the film are quite exemplary, with incredible cinematography, lighting, production design and monster design, from the most terrifying apparitions to the overall design of Pennywise. The feel of Derry is fully realized within this new ‘80s setting, a departure from the original ‘50s setting of the novel and miniseries. Beyond Skarsgard’s performance, the child actors excel and propel the film’s magic to new heights, mixing together humor, genuine care and fear into their performances.
The writing and direction are top notch, making these preceding elements of filmmaking work altogether, leading to a visceral and horrifying film-watching and theater-going experience for all. As for the faithfulness of the novel, aside from some omissions of some of the novel’s more glaring and shockingly unnecessary moments, the film keeps the spirit of the novel and King’s writing intact, making it by far one of the finer adaptations of his work.
Overall, the film is a strong beginning to a two-part film structure, with the second part focusing more on the next stage of the novel, dealing with the kids as adults. As this first film stands, it is a well-acted, well-directed and overall well-produced take on Stephen King’s terrifying 1986 novel. This is certainly a film worth watching in theaters, especially among other people and fellow friends, as this certainly pushes the limits of an R-rated horror film.
Director: Andy Muschietti
Release Date: Sept. 8
Rating: 5 out of 5