Delivering amazing performances and a frenzy of frights, Andy Mushietti’s much anticipated adaptation of Stephen King’s horror opus finally hits the big screen and proves it can float to the top of this year’s list of must-see movies.
It’s summer, 1989, in the small New England town of Derry and the Losers Club are supposed to be outside having fun. However, upon discovering that the town has a grim history of its residents disappearing or dying under tragic circumstances the kids soon come face to face with the murderous shape-shifting clown named Pennywise, the evil entity behind the atrocities.
King’s famous novel is a must-read for horror and non-horror fans alike. Not only is it a fantastically freaky book, it’s themes of friendship, of social outcasts coming together to achieve something extraordinary and the power of belief help set this novel apart from other scary story. King perfectly captures the essence of what facing your fears and being a kid is all about. Trying to adapt such a dense source material was always going to be a challenge but after being stuck in development hell for 7 years and losing its original director – Cary Fukunaga – although he still receives a writing credit for the screenplay, we finally get a new adaptation from ‘Mama’ director Andy Mucshietti
IT’s run time is a bold 2 hours and 15 minutes but it never feels like a drag. After a disturbing take on the infamous opening sequence with Pennywise in the sewer drain, that doesn’t scrimp on the gore, you know you’re in for one hell of a ride. What’s most horrifying about it, aside from the fact the violence is happening to a child, is that Georgie’s fear and Bill’s hesitation to let him play outside alone is well established early on in the previous scene when Bill tells Georgie to get the wax from down in the basement. We’re anxious for what is to come, and when it does, the image of what happens will bore its way under your skin and stay with you for the rest of the movie.
Mucshietti spends the first half of the movie setting up the fears and anxieties of each member of the Losers Club. He’s less concerned with trying to scare you personally and instead gets you to invest in the fears of each of the characters. Whether it’s a grotesquely diseased leper chasing Eddie or the charred hands of his deceased parents clawing after Mike from behind a locked door, you end up sharing the fear with these characters. This investment is facilitated by the incredible performances from each one of the kids, the dialogue and camaraderie between them all is brilliant, genuine and surprisingly funny. Not only does it help you care for these characters it also helps keep the more bizarre and fantastical elements of the story grounded.
And it’s down to Pennywise to bring us these fantastically freaky elements. Bill Skarsgård nails his performance, making his take on the dancing clown stand proudly apart from the Tim Curry’s legendary performance. He treads a fine line between terrifying and charming, you can’t trust him when he’s on screen as you never know when he’s going to let loose and rip someone apart. There’s a revulsion to his appearances and the use of CGI and inventive cinematography create a real sense of being stuck down deep in the uncanny valley.
Overall, despite a few minor gripes, IT is a strong and accessible adaptation of an exceptional novel. Muschietti understood his source material and knew that if he could encapsulate the central idea of the novel within his film the rest would all float into place. This being only the first chapter it will be very intriguing to see how the rest of the story unfolds in part two, and if it can still deliver the shocks, scares and heart that this one so brilliantly delivers.