By Ryan Keating-Lambert
IT is fun but little more than a throwback to the ’80s adventure film – it’s another ‘Stranger Things’, with less scares.
It’s the late 1980s and the children of Derry, Maine are fast disappearing, so a group of social misfits band together to take down the shape shifting clown ‘Pennywise’ (Bill Skarsgård), who they believe is behind the gruesome attacks.
There are countless Stephen King adaptations out there now, and there’s been a lot of discussion about which films have done their creepy source material justice. The original Carrie is and probably always will be one of the best adaptations of King horror, along with Misery and maybe even Pet Sematary. But recently, there’s been a lot of hype around this new version of King’s 1986 ‘IT’ novel, which was directed by Andy Muschietti (Mama).
Let’s be honest. Adapting King’s lengthy novel is no easy challenge. It’s an epic and practically spans an entire lifetime in the fictional town of Derry. Both the kids and their adult versions are packed to the brim with psychological trauma, and because of that, the book has its fair share of taboo moments that just wouldn’t translate to film or television.
Muschietti’s shiny new version is actually pretty faithful to the book though. The characters are well adapted, and the director has managed to keep some of the more disturbing scenes that the 1990 film skipped past completely. He’s also managed to keep ‘The Losers Club’ intact, and quite lovable. At some points it feels a bit like The Goonies or The Monster Squad. It’s certainly entertaining and most will enjoy it as a popcorn movie.
But at times, IT just feels contrived, as if Hollywood is still riding and very much force feeding us the formulaic ’80s nostalgia wave that Netflix’ ‘Stranger Things’ kicked off a year ago. Every shot is littered with ’80s pop culture, from band posters to cinema billboards. The film even sports the show’s Finn Wolfhard as the foul mouthed ‘Richie’.
It would have been nice to see even half of that energy spent into the careful building of suspense and distinctive horror that the book (and Tim Curry’s Pennywise) was so famous for. Skarsgård makes an alright Pennywise but is shown in all his giggling glory from the very beginning. There was nothing to build to.
The horror sequences were generally, for the most part, too frequent, too in-your-face, and at times just plain silly. Slow and steady wins the race when you want your film to have some suspense. Strange that there was also a lot of shoddy CGI, when more practical effects would have better suited the film’s time frame… and then there’s the possibility that perhaps clowns just aren’t scary anymore? They have been somewhat exhausted in the horror genre since the original novel.
Either way, IT should be treated as little more than an entertaining action / adventure romp. If you go in with that attitude, you’ll enjoy it. The kids are charming, and Sophia Lillis’ ‘Beverly’ is definitely a standout. It’ll be interesting to see who plays the grownup versions of the club in Part 2. Thoughts?