There was a time in Hollywood where Stephen King’s name was above a slew of projects. Even It, based on his 1986 doorstop of a novel, was made into a 1990 mini-series which scared the bejesus out of a generation mainly thanks to an iconic performance from Tim Curry as Pennywise The Clown. And then, in no small part thanks to a few dud adaptations of his material King left Hollywood. This year though King is, well, king of Hollywood once again. 2017 alone will see no fewer than three movies and two TV series. But after the box office disappointment of The Dark Tower, Andy Muschietti’s film comes with a certain weight on It’s shoulders to help the renaissance of King.
Choosing to split the tome into two films (yes, this is part one of two but happily stands alone as a complete story) It is set in 1988 and follows The Losers Club, a group of kids living in the town of Derry. Over the course of its history Derry has acquired the unwanted statistic of having a missing persons rosta six times the national average. The adults of Derry are blind to it but the Losers soon discover that the evil of the town is manifest as a malevolent Pennywise The Clown (Bill Skarsgård). With local bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) also after The Losers the gang must put their fear aside, band together and try to defeat the evil that surrounds them.
From Its opening scene it is clear that this is not only going to be a faithful adaptation of King’s work it is also as close to no-holds-barred as you’re likely to get in mainstream cinema. From a terror point of view Muschietti has nailed the tone perfectly. Pennywise’s opening moment is the stuff of nightmare, the kind of chilling, spine quivering moment that haunts you long after you’ve left the cinema. The horror of It is smart, often unrelenting and exactly what King would have wanted. There are moments so smartly executed you find yourself flinching away from the screen, so in-your-face is that monstrosity of a clown.
But, like King’s book, where the film really succeeds is in depicting the lives of The Losers. This is a film about kids, about being a child and never fully understanding what is going on in your contained existence. But it is aimed at an adult audience. The Losers are all of us, outsiders yet part of a collective. We all had a friend like Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), we all had a crush on Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis – a genuine talent and the standout cast member), we all ran scared of our own Henry Bowers and we all spent our summer days on our bikes with friends we thought we’d have for life.
In the moments when we’re hanging out with The Losers, watching their dynamic play out, complete with mum jokes – which never fail to brighten the otherwise dark tone – it’s impossible not to be reminded of Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me and more recently Netflix’s Amblin homage Stranger Things. That Stranger Things and It share a cast member in the form of the brilliant Wolfhard is no coincidence. In no small part thanks to its ‘80s setting this feels like it could be the horror movie that Steven Spielberg never directed. That almost all The Losers seem to have absent or abusive parents only furthers this theory. But it does have that ‘80s charm of transporting you back to that era with almost effortless, never flashy detail.
Towards the end it does feel as if it might be running out of ideas but as long as we’re in the company of The Losers it never really matters. Add to this a performance from Bill Skarsgård that easily matches Tim Curry’s for sheer creepiness and It delivers right up until the closing credits.
A solid horror that will have you basking in the memories of school summer holidays with nostalgic brilliance. It is Stephen King to a tee and a film that knows how to sink its teeth into your jugular as well as your heart.