It – Floats Much More Than It Sinks

By Ezra Stead 

It, USA, 2017

Directed by Andy Muschietti

The 1990 TV movie adaptation of Stephen King’s wildly ambitious 1986 novel It has always had a place in the hearts of folks my age (we’re apparently known as “Xennials” now) much like that reserved for The Goonies. This love for both movies exists in us for the same reason: simple nostalgia. Unless you first saw both of them at a young, impressionable age, it might be too late now. For anyone remembering the It miniseries as genuinely scary, watch it again; it’s far more unintentionally funny. With the advances in special effects technology over the past 27 years, though, and without the restrictions imposed by television network standards, the new theatrical take on King’s novel fills the void quite nicely for those who want to be genuinely frightened by a movie about a bunch of misfit preteens facing down a murderous clown-monster. 

Andy Muschietti’s new adaptation does something right that the recently released (and somewhat underrated) Dark Tower movie got wrong. Instead of trying to cram everything appealing about a huge, sprawling King saga into one movie—as some kind of misguided attempt at a safeguard against the sort of failed franchise-starter we got with The Golden Compass ten years ago, for example—Muschietti and his trio of screenwriters have opted for a more thorough—though certainly not completely faithful—adaptation of roughly half the book, taking the slim chance that the rest of the story might not ever be told (Chapter Two has, of course, already been greenlit).

The split makes sense and works well, even though we regretfully lose some of the emotional resonance found in the book’s parallels between the characters as children versus as the adults they have become. In a way, with the adult sections of the story removed, what remains is kind of like Stand By Me with supernatural elements, and it’s pretty much as awesome as that sounds. To be fair, it also has a lot in common with Stranger Things, comparisons to which will not be lessened by the fact that they share a star in the incredibly named Finn Wolfhard (who plays Richie Tozier here), but that’s obviously a case of the same King novel influencing both projects, albeit in a less direct way for Things.

Some of the characters—particularly Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher of last year’s Midnight Special) and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis, a very promising newcomer)—are better developed than others—most notably Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), who becomes rather the most important one of all as an adult, but has far too little to do here—and at least one is seemingly dispatched before the end of the movie, despite playing a significant role in the second half of the book, but the visual effects and scary setpieces are top-notch.

Signs that the movie is going to get more right than it does wrong abound right from the start. The opening chapter of the book is faithfully represented, right down to the horrifying loss of little Georgie Denbrough’s arm to Pennywise in the sewer, a traumatic moment that had to be softened for television. The brutality of this opening sequence lets us know right away that punches will not be pulled here; this is a real, hardcore, actually scary movie for grown-ups.

It’s hard to argue against the fact that the TV miniseries version’s greatest strength was its Pennywise, the evil clown played with alternating charisma and glowering menace by the great Tim Curry. The new Pennywise, as played by Bill Skarsgard, leans much more heavily on the menacing side. With the exception of that first scene, in which he speaks to Georgie from inside the sewer, he rarely seems to even be attempting charm. Whatever the performance lacks in nuance compared to Curry’s, though, it’s certainly a solid turn (a downright relieving one for anyone who saw his work in the dreadful Hemlock Grove and worried that he might singlehandedly ruin this movie), and with the aid of lighting, editing, and visual effects, this Pennywise gets a number of really terrifying moments that even a great performance like Curry’s couldn’t achieve on its own. It also doesn’t hurt that this version’s tone is far less campy than its predecessor’s.

One of the book’s greatest strengths that is largely missing from both adaptations is the sense of the town of Derry itself being corrupted by “It,” the mysterious monster most frequently seen in the form of a clown. There’s a hint of it in the lack of concern shown by an elderly couple as they drive by Mike being bullied by three older boys, but that particular idea is not easily translated to the cinematic medium. Likewise, the leader of the three bullies, Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton, strangely reminiscent of a very young Kevin Bacon in the role), is gradually corrupted and driven insane by Pennywise’s influence throughout the book, whereas he already seems pretty murderous from the start here. There are also certain omissions and narrative choices that might not make sense to anyone lacking a familiarity with the source material, but, all in all, the movie gets way too much right for me not to embrace it.

Surprisingly, one of the main things it gets right is a major, highly controversial moment from the novel being completely excised. Some of you know exactly what I’m referring to. For the rest, say what you will against this movie if you don’t end up liking it, but be glad It spared you the infamous sewer sex scene.

Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’ Ezra is also a screenwriter, actor, filmmaker, rapper, and occasional stand-up comic who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in New York City, where he is working on his first novel.

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    class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-110988">

    Good review. I find it hard to judge objectively. It was very scary and a lot of fun but I think that separating the adult and children narratives really undermined a lot of themes from the book like how childhood traumas become lifelong fears. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, after the movie I found myself recommending It Follows to my sister as kind of a cheap knockoff version of this.

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