Stephen King’s It has always been a difficult novel to adapt to another medium as proven by the original miniseries which has only begun to show how terribly it has aged over the years (I haven’t been able to make it through the miniseries after reading the novel for myself and finding it absolutely fantastic). The notion that a feature film based entirely on the first half of the novel would have indicated some promise but at the same time I was skeptical because Andy Muschietti hasn’t impressed me with his prior directorial effort, Mama. But it wouldn’t be fair to expect a film that gets down to what the novel had achieved, so on its own ground I enjoyed what Muschietti had made here, despite obvious room for improvement.
The premise of It was simple enough, we focus on a group of bullied kids at the end of the summer who have to face a monster that is otherwise known as “It” as more lives mysteriously go missing upon its reign of terror every twenty seven years. The leader of the Losers’ Club is Bill Denbrough, and he wishes to take vengeance upon the monster after it had claimed the life of his younger brother – facing his own fears in the process. Alongside being one of the best horror novels ever written, King’s original story also provided a great template for a great coming-of-age tale about a group of outcasts overcoming their own fears, among many aspects about It that works to its own benefit: capturing the heart of King’s vision beautifully through its understanding of the concept of “It.”
It isn’t a purely King-esque vision that we are in the face of here, because it could be easy enough to draw comparisons to Netflix’s Stranger Things (a fantastic love letter to the 80’s) because this film never seems afraid to show how influenced it is by said era on all counts whether it be Chung Chung-hoon’s beautiful cinematography or how it wallows in its own setting. Unfortunately it also seems to be where It falters because on some count it never delivers any of these influences with its own subtlety, even drawing certain scares from what has already been done prior. There comes one of the biggest problems with It, it seems to have trouble finding its own identity as a horror film because oftentimes Muschietti’s direction is only making the viewer aware a scene is about to turn scary via a loud clang or music cue, which takes away from the natural tension it could have promised. Perhaps I’m also nitpicking to some extent, but it was also difficult enough for me to buy into its obvious familiarity with certain character tropes being repeated (i.e. the hollow bully and Beverly being turned into a damsel).
The performances from the young actors are all wonderful, with Finn Wolfhard being an easy pick for the best of the bunch (once again, it was expected with his role on Stranger Things), and even characters with the most evident weaknesses are still being made compelling thanks to the efforts of the cast. As the stuttering leader Bill Denbrough, Jaeden Lieberher is fantastic, but the chemistry that all these young actors have with one another makes It all the more of a delight. Even with the noted damsel trope I dislike in Beverly, Sophia Lillis was still showing great effort to which I appreciated. But to speak of “It,” Bill Skarsgård does wonderfully as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. In his short moments on the screen, he still provides a chilling presence and leaves a long-lasting impact afterwards.
And going back to note how the film forms jump scares, this is where It has only found itself at its most hit and miss. If one’s seen the trailers already, they give away the best moments but nevertheless the crafting present here is still chilling enough. But oftentimes, I’m just convinced that Andy Muschietti based on this and Mama, is not good at creating tension. For a moment as chilling as Georgie’s death scene, it goes by rather quickly and the next few scares happen to be moments that one can see from a mile away because you already can recognize the cue. It was annoying enough, because there are moments where it seems earned and others where it doesn’t.
Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun with It, even though knowing what King’s original novel had managed to achieve, it still feels underwhelming in comparison. It was a lot of fun to watch because at its best, a great coming-of-age tale is present, with all of its funny moments and its darker moments. But as a horror film, I can’t help that it feels fairly standard, because the last thing I’d want from an adaptation of a masterful horror novel is one that plays upon the fears we recognize rather than those that surprise us. But to restate myself, expecting something that could ever match the mastery of King’s original creation would be unfair, and on its own, Andy Muschietti’s It is enjoyable enough.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Warner Bros.
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman, from the novel by Stephen King
Produced by Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg, Barbara Muschietti
Starring Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 135 minutes