And so comes IT, the second screen adaptation of King's seminal novel of the same name. People over the age of 30 will be familiar with the story, having read the novel or having seen the hugely popular 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. That film has earned itself the reputation of being the ultimate vex for caulrophobes (people who are terrified of clowns) and while it would be easy to hold it up for comparison to this new version, it's important to seperate the two. This is not a remake, but rather a new interpretation of the popular novel, and with that I must try to disregard the 1990 movie entirely...
Set in King's familiar township of Derry, Maine, the story follows “The Losers Club”, a group of teenage outcasts who band together to fight a malevolent entity that has consumed their town. Taking the shape of children's worst fears the monster lurks in sewers and preys upon innocence. Its most prevalent shape is that of Pennywise, the dancing clown and with a giggle that'll send shivers down your spine he unleashes a campaign of terror on these unsuspecting kids, oblivious to their own personal demons, which ultimately equips them with the strength to step up to the challenge.
2017 has been a good year for horror and IT has arrived delivering an almighty wallop. With an initial box office taking that has eclipsed its budget, IT joins the likes of Annabelle: Creation and Get Out in proving the genre to be a viable theatrical contender amongst the more credibly perceived genres. And like the aforementioned titles IT is impressive.
Director Andrés Muschietti took the reigns of this highly anticipated adaptation having previously only directed one film, Mama, and the result of his labor has proven him to have been a sure bet. Despite shifting the story's time frame from the 1950s (as depicted the novel) to the 1980s he has managed to maintain the core ingredients of a classic King horror story while successfully capitalising on the recent trend of retro 80's-centric throwback films. With the 1980s being a pre-internet age it isn't difficult for the audience to invest in the concept of childhood adventure. Although having said that - while it's palatable and nostalgic for thirty-something viewers - I can imagine that the concept of kids on bikes spending their summertime outdoors might be a stretch for some of today's sun-deprived YouTube generation. With a bit of luck other likeminded period titles like Stranger Things and Wet Hot American Summer will have given them the initiation required.
The film is scary. Very very scary. And thanks to an impressive production design, an atmospheric score and a cast of exceptional child actors King's story has hit the big screen in a profound way. Where Tim Curry's 1990 portrayal of Pennywise is impossible to forget, the new film presents the character closer to King's description in the novel. For some people who grew up with Curry's take on the character the new portrayal (by Bill Skarsgård) will fail to live up to the iconic malevolence that permeated the miniseries, however other viewers will be taken aback by the intensity and absolute ferociousness of Skarsgård's persona. Where he lacks in charisma he makes up for with a predatory aggression, which sets a violent and terrifying tone.
Fans of the novel will note the film disregards some of King's more confronting and controversial aspects of the story, and ignored almost all of Pennywise's backstory (which was also omitted from the '90 version) and so there is no question that the studio chose to play it safe this time around to avoid potential backlash. Fortunately they compensated their reservation with a colourful script which puts filthy words into the kid's mouthes and delivers an abundance of frights.
Most importantly the film respects the story and gives its young characters the entire 120-minute running time to themselves. The closing credits remind us that Chapter Two is yet to follow, which for some reason surprised the audience I was amongst (I can only assume they are the millennials I mentioned who are uninitiated with King's work), and promises to afford the character's adult counter-parts the same respect.
IT is a wonderful horror movie that relies on the tropes of the genre as well as the charm of King's writing to fork out a bang-for-buck fright show with the assurance of more to come. I can't wait!