As far as Stephen King’s writings being brought to the big screen, it has been more hit than miss over the years. Even King tried to direct one of his writings for the big screen with 1986’s Maximum Overdrive; a disaster if ever there was one. My own personal favorite films would include Stand By Me which doubles also as one of my own personal favorite films. Others would include Misery, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Ironically, the best films to make it to the big screen that were written by Stephen King were not horror films at all. Mostly self-discovery films with richly drawn characters. Stephen King’s IT, now simply called IT has finally been given the big screen treatment.
Expectations were running very high for IT and being directed by a relative newcomer, Andy Muschietti whose only other big release was 2013’s Mama (a good film). With a cast of unknowns, for the most part and a trio of screenwriters who have not amassed that much to know whether or not they were the right writes for this picture, IT lands in theaters and I am very pleased to say this is one of the better screen adaptations of Stephen King’s writings. It may not be perfect but IT is a rather freaky, unflinching and unsettling horror film that has a compelling cast of characters that make the story work. Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise, the shapeshifting, demonic clown was pure genius casting. He creates a truly diabolical villain.
The film opens in 1989 in the Maine town of Derry; a small, quiet mostly suburban community whose kids have started to go missing. A 7 pm curfew is in effect but that does not stop a group of kids who call themselves “The Losers” from enjoying everything that the summer season has to offer. But these same kids cannot deny not seeing something or someone that doesn’t seem quite right. This is all brought into reality by the latest members of their club, Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) and Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). “It prays on what we fear most,” a trembling Beverly tells her new friends.
IT follows King’s book pretty faithfully, for the most part. Script writers Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman focus on the history of where Pennywise’s origins started but they also develop the kids and their backstories with just the right amount of detail and let the story unfold through their eyes. The cast of young of young performers is terrific. Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Sophia Lillis, Jack Dylan Grazer and Wyatt Oleff all turn in remarkable performances as the Losers. Each one has his or her own problems with family and/or school and although IT is primarily a horror film, this is also a quite poignant film about growing up, feeling the pains of first love and above all friendship.
Andy Muschietti’s direction, script and editing keep IT’s pace moving but the film never feels rushed. The script gives time to each character and interweaves their stories throughout the film but it never lingers too long for any one character. IT has a terrific flow and although it has a run time of two hours and fifteen minutes, I never was bored or antsy. The editing by Jason Ballantine is very sharp as well as the beautiful cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung who frames every shot with loving care. I even enjoyed Benjamin Wallfisch’s score which has some nice melodies mixed with some jarring horror music.
If I had any complaints, it would be that there are a few too many jump scares. Films tend to rely on jump scares a little too much and IT is no exception. I also did not care for how every adult character in the film was either s sexual predator, bully, nag or a creep. Is there not any adult that could have been represented as a positive role model? But, overall, I was very pleased with how IT has turned out. It is a well thought-out and carefully constructed film that is primarily a horror film first and a character study second. The late 80’s has been recreated well and the look and feel of IT is solid. I especially got a kick out of one of the kids who wears an Airwolf t-shirt. There is definitely a Stand-By-Me feel to IT, as well and I connected with that. As for clown creep factor, if they creeped you out before, trust me, you will be even more creeped out after. One more note, there have been some links suggesting there is a post credit scene and one during the credits. There is neither.
IT – **** out of 5
IT – Rated R for language, gore and scenes of terror
IT – Run Time is 134 minutes
IT is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations nearest you.