It is at its best when it focuses on The Loser’s Club
Childhood fears and clowns go together like Stephen King and movie adaptations. With supernatural coming-of-age stories featuring kids being so popular these days (Stranger Things comes to mind), what better choice than to bring It to the big screen. Throughout the years, we’ve received many great King stories come to life like Misery, The Green Mile, and The Shining. However, no adaptation has seen a more talented cast of children than It‘s Losers’ Club. This mature supernatural coming-of-age story is well-written and makes a lot of bold choices that are worth commemorating.
In the small town of Derry, Maine, children disappear 9 times the national average. The reason – there’s a murderous supernatural clown by the name of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) that has been terrorizing the town for centuries. Bill Denbrough (Jaden Lieberher) and his friends will have to face their fears if they want to defeat It.
It captures the broken and lovable characters of the book impeccably. Bill, Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Bev (Sophia Lillis), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jake Dylan Grazer), and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) are all fantastically cast as The Losers’ Club. They bounce between being playful and sexually inappropriate kids to being broken and traumatized individuals. Their stories are filled with bullying, abuse, and murder, but they find comfort in their group. They all feel like real children with genuine problems, that are often misunderstood or ignored.
With all those layers and emotionally disturbing scenes, the actors remain focused and on the job. They’re charismatic and extremely talented, a hard quality to find in child actors. It’s hard to choose a standout but if I had to Lieberher and Lillis would be among the top. Their chemistry together feels authentic, and the scenes they share together are some of the best moments of the entire film.
Though, cinematic moments are not what is lacking from It. Writers Cary Fukunaga, Chase Palmer, and Gary Oldman have created a sturdy screenplay that works as a drama and thriller much more efficiently than a horror. That’s not necessarily a fault but showcases a multifaceted script that’s compelling and clever. It borrows a lot more from the book than it does from the miniseries thus creating a darker and gorier tale offering fans of the book a real treat.
A quality that I continue to admire from filmmakers tackling dark stories is their ability to push boundaries, and It certainly leaves no gruesome bridge uncrossed. The violence against children, the sexual jokes, and the gore are all shockingly present as they are in the book. There are moments of pure horror, but director Andy Muschietti never crosses any line and never glorifying the violence in a careless manner. On the flip side, there are plenty of heartfelt and hilarious moments shared between the kids that contrast the darker elements of It. Even with all these tonal shifts, the film is never jarring as it seemingly switches tones with such ease.
While Stranger Things comparisons are inevitable, as much as It is inspired by the 80s, the comparisons end with the 80s setting and actor Finn Wolfhard. However, not to say that it isn’t warranted, It finds inspiration from the same films, but it’s less explicit than the Netflix series. The Evil Dead is a big inspiration for the film’s zany and gory horror. There is a whole scene where dead people come to life, and their faces and mannerisms feel like they’re cursed by Necronomicon Ex-Mortis.
Another big inspiration is Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street (which a poster for the film is showed towards the end). Muschietti’s shot selections and direction in a bathroom scene let out Craven vibes. His film techniques pay homage to the filmmakers of that era such as Raimi and Speilberg. Even Bill Skarsgard’s eccentric yet horrifying mannerisms are implicitly inspired by Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger. It’s a nice homage to the beloved 80s horror and the directors that made it possible while finding a nice balance between inspiration and plain copying.
Where the film lacks a bit of tightness and discipline has to be in its overall atmosphere. An interesting part of King’s novel is the history of Derry, Maine, a sinister place where mystery lingers in the sewer. It’s disappointing that It doesn’t take the time to establish the eerie atmosphere Derry deserves. There isn’t any consistent sense of dread throughout, an important part of why Derry was such a scary place in the novel. Fortunately, the off-beat adults and the grisly history lessons help give the film a much-needed atmosphere, but it’s never as fully realized as it should or could be. Without the accomplished atmosphere, It isn’t as scary outside the terrific performance of Skarsgard as Pennywise. Muschietti relies too much on jump scares rather than building suspense and doesn’t give Skarsgard the time to shine as he should.
It preserves anyway, disturbing you instead of scaring you, and it most certainly belongs in the best Stephen King adaptation category. The film finds time to explore the various themes of the novel from childhood fears and imagination to ignorance and trauma. The writing and the terrific performances by our child actors make It memorable despite the lack of scare factor. Andy Muschietti is not afraid to push boundaries concerning children and violence but he doesn’t forget that the true horror lies in these kids’ life experiences from bullying and abuse. It makes it very clear – ignoring our kids can lead to great and devastating tragedies that will continue to haunt them in the future. If the end credits are any indication, we aren’t entirely finished with Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
It comes out in theatres on September 8.