Stephen King is a horror legend, that doesn’t feel like an original claim but I feel like it is needed to be made here. Alongside Mary Shelly, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft it is perhaps not hard to imagine that King is one of the most influential writers in modern fiction today. Though he is never really consistent with the quality of writing therein lie some of the scariest passages in horror books I have read. His short stories and novels written using his actual name and nom-de-plum, Richard Bachman, have been adapted into movies and TV. Most range in quality, many are cheaply produced TV mini-series, there are some theatrical films, and those that have remained fan favourites are Stanley Kubrick’s The Shinning and Frank Darabont’s Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile and The Mist. However, an outlier that is usually spoken of in similar conversations is a two part TV movie made in 1990 based on one of King’s longest and most famous books, It. Now 27 years after the TV films a new team are bringing it to the big screen. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Based on the first half of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, It follows a group of outcasts, dubbed the loser club, investigating a series of disappearances concerning local children. They find horrifying patterns in their town’s history and an eternal evil that has taken the form of a seemingly harmless clown that is behind it all.
So the remake of It starts at a great disadvantage, at least in my mind. Both the book and the 1990 TV series, starring Tim Curry as the evil clown Pennywise, have become pillars of the horror genre so it will be hard for anyone to adapt the story and for anyone trying to fill those oversized clown shoes. I personally really enjoyed both, I recognise that neither is perfect, the book is let down by some seriously weird sections that I will not bring up and the other is let down by some creaky effects, limited budget and the fact that the rest of the cast isn’t Tim Curry.
For the most part It the movie does a good job in adapting Kings novel, its characters and its tone. The actors playing the kids all do their best to portray real kids, having a blast hanging out and being scared out of their minds. Fin Wolfhard from Stranger Things is strong as loudmouth Richie, a departure from his character from the Duffer Brother’s hit Netflix show, Sophia Lillis does a wonderful job as Bev and Wyatt Oleff and Jack Dylan Grazer both back up the cast as Stan and Eddie well. I will say that Jaeden Lieberher who played Bill Denbrough never exuded a leader vibe for me so I was a little brought out of the group dynamic because of that slight weakness, that and a lack of screen time for Chosen Jacobs as Mike Hanlon. Bill Skarsgard of Hemlock Grove fame plays this version of Pennywise, and he does a pretty good job distinguishing himself from Curry’s version and making it his own, at times goofy, intimidating and scary. I personally tried to keep him separate from Curry as it would be incredibly unfair to judge Skarsgard against that campy classic.
There is some great atmosphere as well. The filmmakers rightly pick up on the slightly creepy details that exist in Derry and have them going on in the background, always present. There is a great scene in a library that takes on a sort of It Follows approach to horror where it is the strange behaviour just in the background that is the most unsettling. Tied to that is a wonderful design and look for the film; everything screams 80’s from the costumes to the sets. I will say that one problem may be because the cast shares a common thread with Stranger Things that audiences will make those sorts of connections and lessen the impact of It.
The film does have its problems, mainly due to time and focus. We didn’t spend enough time with the kids to truly get to know them, and I would have personally liked to see more of them not being scared by the clown. Speaking of, the film focused on Pennywise rather than the children, which I feel is a backwards approach to the story. He is an iconic horror, but It is a tale of friendship and coming of age in the face of domestic tragedy that also happens to have a supernatural Lovecraftian being that eats children. This also affected the pace of the story which felt a little juddery, taking us from the group being separated to united within the space of minutes. Finally, while It does have some great atmosphere, the film falls back on an abundance of jump scares that ruin it. The use of these types of scares was distracting and irritating more than anything else, and I was hoping for something more disturbing, like that scene in the sewer where Pennywise is doing a jig, no jump scares or loud noises there, but I don’t think that image is going away anytime soon.
I think a second viewing of It is necessary before I can say whether I recommend this movie to people. It does have a good cast and a great atmosphere, but it is plagued by a rushed script and tired cliches. It certainly is one of the better King adaptations, but it is also certainly not up there with Darabont and Kubrick masterpieces.
You can watch It in Cinema’s now