So the latest (and first theatrical) adaptation of Stephen King’s It just came out and it’s a really, really solid and effective film. Based on roughly half of the novel, it follows a bunch of outcast “loser” kids as they deal with unhelpful adults, bullies, and a case of a Killer Clown who knows what scares them. The book was adapted into a (somehow) iconic 1990s tv miniseries starring Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown… Curry is good but the film hasn’t aged well. This new film fixes that and is both a better movie and a better adaptation.
The film has been moved from the 1950s to the late 1980s and the update works without having too many “check it, we’re in the 80s”-type references. This change works since the book (and series) covers the kids and then their adult selves 30 years later. Since this movie is set in 1989 and only features the kids, it would make sense they are planning a sequel set in 2018 or 2019. The film marketing just calls the movie It.. but the end credits assures us this is It: Chapter 1.
The seven kids they got to play the leads are all really solid and the script knows how they should talk. This is kind of a combination of Stand By Me, The Goonies, and a little ET – they are natural, they curse a lot, and they play off each other only the way 12-13 year old friends do. As a collective, they are all good. Amusingly, Finn Wolfhard (best. name. ever.) is one of the kids and he was also in the 80s-set horror show Stranger Things.
The new Pennywise wisely avoids the Tim Curry version from the miniseries. This Pennywise is outright more sinister and less over-the-top. He’s creepy, weirdly malleable, and somehow more personable than I expected. He seems to have a bit more character without spelling anything obvious out. He’s also not used too much… he shows up as the manifestation of the kids’ fears but he’s sometimes portraying a leper, a creepy painting, etc. It’s a smart move, given the 2+ hour running time, to keep the clown version off-stage as much as they do.
This does result in a slight problem with the flick in that each kid gets his or her own manifestation of their greatest fear. These scenes are all well done and suspenseful but they do get a little repetitive. At some point you realize that maybe this is just another Boo Moment like all the rest. Your results may vary on this and maybe it’s because I’m familiar with the story structure that these stopped working on me as much as I’d like.
But, hey, not enough to hurt the film. In general, this is one heck of a well-made movie. It looks great, the editing and cinematography are fantastic, and the acting solid. It’s really nice to have such a well put-together movie that’s basically “just” another horror flick. A lot of care went into it and I was surprised to find that the budget was only around 35 million bucks which is basically nothing.
As a final thought, this movie is rated R in a way Stephen King adaptations should be. It’s R for the salty dialog from young teen actors, sure. But it’s also R for a lot of blood… not splatter, but blood and violence (and a little icky suggestive leering at the girl of the group). When bodily violence is done to a young child, you know the movie isn’t pulling its punches. Though, again, this isn’t a splatterfest… it’s still done with some restraint and style.
So, yeah, if you are a fan of the book or miniseries or just want to see some well-made, mature horror (starring kids), this is a really good flick. It’s high-brow without being high-brow – it’s still a good pulpy Stephen King story but it’s done with class. Or as much class as a movie with a killer clown can be. Score: 87