It, an adaptation of the 1986 horror novel by Stephen King, is a well-written, occasionally scary horror film, which successfully replicates King’s usual fine eye for how kids relate and speak to each other.
It is the story of seven 13-year-olds trying to rid their hometown of an evil presence that has taken the form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). This story was told in a fondly-remembered three-part 1990 ABC miniseries (this movie covers essentially the first half of the material covered in the miniseries). That version featured a delightfully sinister performance from Tim Curry as Pennywise, but was plagued by cheesy dialogue and some very significant pacing issues. Those problems are largely cleared up here.
In this film, the kids convincingly sound like kids. This is a horror movie, but what it is really about is the friendship that develops one summer between seven lonely 13-year-olds (collectively, they call themselves “The Losers Club”) and how that friendship makes them stronger than they ever could have been on their own.
All of the Losers have their own backstories (some, specifically Bill and Beverly, are developed more than others) and distinct personalities. Since It torments the kids by using their deepest fears, it is important that each of them stand out as individuals. There is the stuttering Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), who still has questions following the disappearance of his little brother. There is Beverly (Sophia Lillis), the only girl in the group, who has an abusive father. Then there is overweight new kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), wisecracking Richie (Finn Wolfhard), orphaned Mike (Chosen Jacobs), germaphobic Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Jewish Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), who is studying for his bar mitzvah. This type of description makes each of them sound one dimensional, but they’re really not.
Pennywise is supposed to be a terrifying creature that preys on the fears of the weak. His appearance is creepy and his seeming delight at torturing kids is unsettling in a good way. The problem is, the more you see of Pennywise, the less scary he gets. It is kind of a double-edged sword for this particular story because he is not the kind of monster that can stalk from the shadows. However, as It goes on, his scenes become the least interesting. Skarsgard is fine in the role, but Pennywise is essentially a plot device and, though he is fun for a while, he wears out his welcome before film’s end.
On the other hand, the scenes with the Loser’s hanging out and acting like kids are great. Because we know who these kids are and what kind of lives they lead, the scenes where their lives are in danger have bigger stakes. The most impressive thing about It is how director Andy Muschietti effortlessly moves between the horror and the scenes of childhood. It does not feel like two films stapled together. One feeds off the other and that makes the overall movie stronger.
I have never read It the book, so I am not sure how faithful this movie adapts it’s story to the screen. However, I have read other Stephen King novels and this feels like a King story. The characters, dialogue and even some of the story beats just feel right. This is not a perfect film, there is maybe one subplot too many and it could stand to lose about 10 minutes, but it’s entertaining, fun and smart. It is a very good piece of escapism. 3½ out of 5 stars.
By Ben Pivoz
Ben’s Movie Reviews