You know, when I think of this newest adaptation of a Steven King novel, I find myself being reminded of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Though there is the obvious connection of a bunch of kids being put into danger against a costumed villain, my mind jumps to a more production related reason.
In the case of Peter Pan, the dominant adaptation was obviously the 1953 Disney version. And because of this, almost everyone kind of forgot that there had never been a live-action version of the classic tale. Sure, there were ones that came close, like Steven Spielberg’s Hook; but none based on the original story until 2003, a solid 50 years later.
It is somewhat the same, in that the four hour miniseries version has become so dominant in our pop culture, that most forget we’ve never had an adaptation of It hit the big screen.
Well its been 30 years since the book’s release… So no pressure guys…
Eight months have passed since the disappearance of Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), one of several children that have disappeared over the past few decades. His older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) refuses to stop searching for him and insists that Georgie may have gotten lost in the sewers of their hometown of Derry.
Along for the ride are his close friends; the foul mouthed Richie (Finn Wolfhard); the hypochondria suffering Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer); and the Jewish germophobe Stan (Wyatt Oleff). As they begin their investigation they’re soon joined by three additional kids, the tough-as-nails Beverly (Sophia Lillis); the bookworm Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor); and farmhand Mike (Chosen Jacobs).
But soon the group realise there’s more to the missing children than a simple disappearance. Especially when a certain clown crosses their paths…
Ask any director and the one thing they will all agree is that “Casting is half the battle.” Generally this involves casting your main protagonist and then building the remainder of the cast around them. So if there’s an actor/actress that doesn’t quite click with your lead, then it’s fairly easy to find a replacement.
But in the cases of ensemble casting, the difficulty just shoots through the roof. While it’s true that many films have succeeded in this aspect, from the low budget 12 Angry Men to the Oscar winning Lord of the Rings trilogy, I honestly think that It might have the best ensemble cast of the 21st century.
Though we mostly experience the film through the stuttering words of Lieberher’s Bill, there’s no doubt that each child is given a chance to shine in this otherwise quite dark coming-of-age story. From the crude (though hilarious) jokes of Wolfhard’s Richie, to the sweet pre-pubescent crush of Ben on Beverly; each member of the aptly named “Losers Club” is so well cast it beggars belief. While it’s true some may see each child as merely defined by one singular attribute and fear; their interaction with each other brings their relationship, not only pathos, but also realism. Full props must be given to both director Andy Muschietti and casting director Rich Delia.
But tying together this disparate team of kids is the creepy menace that is Pennywise the dancing clown (Bill Skarsgård).
To say that Skarsgård dominates the screen would be the understatement of 2017. While Heath Ledger’s Joker spread fear through the medium of chaos, Skarsgård’s Pennywise dives straight into the deep end, using the fears of each child to frighten and horrify. With his squeaky high-pitched voice and drool-infused smile; Skarsgård destroys any previous interpretation of Pennywise and, like Ledger’s Joker, will probably be parodied and echoed for years to come.
That said, as amazing as Pennywise is in the many inventive set-pieces, the film doesn’t quite succeed in explaining how the ghastly clown makes his choices, i.e. why does he kill some, but not others? As comparison, if you look at the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, the rules are pretty clear; don’t sleep, otherwise Freddy will get you.
Regardless, what I love most about the film is how effortlessly it transports you back in time to the 80s. With a well crafted script from Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman; the references to New Kids on the Block, AIDS, and yes, even the non-PC jokes harken back to a time filled with personal connections rather than the Snapchat-infested era that we find ourselves in. Imagine remaking The Goonies as a horror and you’re about half way there.
While it may not be as emotive as this summer’s It Comes At Night, 2017’s It finds its own path and ends up being a spine-chilling adaptation, worthy of joining the ranks of other highly acclaimed horror films. A guaranteed crowd-pleaser, this is without a doubt the best Stephan King adaptation in over a decade.