I'm going to be honest and get this out of the way, I've never read a single Stephen King novel. E v e r. This is not to say horror isn't my thing, I just have never attempted to shift King up my reading list. Having said this, there is something ingrained with King's IT into popular culture, whether that be the mammoth size of the novel (a staggering 1,138 pages) or the more iconic image of Pennywise the clown, fabulously portrayed by Tim Curry in the 1990 mini series and this has always fascinated me. So, when I first saw the (record breaking) trailer for the Andy Muschetti-directed adaption, Warner Bros firmly held my attention and I couldn't wait to catch IT in cinemas. But does IT live up to the hype?
For those who aren't familar with the novel or the mini series, IT follows a small group of kids living in Derry trying to uncover the mystery of why so many children are disappearing at an alarming rate. As time unfolds, the culprit points to a shape-shifting clown that is seemingly immortal and feeds off fear, and it falls to the self-styled Losers' Club to investigate.
Muschetti beautifully delivers a film that meshes solid horror and suspense with crafted charm and romance. Every single member of the Losers' Club shines brightly within the film, each having their own amount of screen time to allow us access to who they are as a person, and, more importantly, what makes them scared. From Bill's harboured guilt toward the death of his younger brother to Beverly's fear of her abusive father (and puberty, shown in an extremely graphic scene that acts as a pretty unsubtle metaphor), Muschetti patiently explores the very idea of fear and that what we fear most, is fear itself. The term 'It' has connotations of something unknown or unexplainable, which again, is more terrifying that monsters or clowns (though the latter is pretty damn scary). We follow the kids being challenged by the fear that they think defines them, and how ultimately they have to learn to conquer that fear and live with it, rather than run from it. From going down this emotional route, Muschetti explores a coming-of-age story that is very tender and beautiful, that harks back to not only King's Stand By Me, but other films and shows such as The Goonies, E.T, Stranger Things and so much more. This is an authentic portrayal of transitioning from child to adult, they swear, make sexual references and struggle to cope with sudden shifts of emotion; this makes them feel like fully rounded characters. Each member is extremely likeable; you won't be able to stop yourself smiling from sheer charm.
But Muschetti still understands that this is a horror film. Not only do we have Bill Skarsgård's Pennywise, carefully skirting around the edges of the film, used sparingly in the right moments but not without over-killing it, we also have the menacing presence of the adults. Adults are interestingly distant in Derry, they loom in the shadows casting eyes over the kids as if they too, are the monsters. Which brings back to the fear of the 'unknown', adults in this film have the potential to be as dangerous as Pennywise; therefore this makes the kids fully isolated as a group, which only makes you root for them even more. You also have the sociopath Henry Bowers, who seeks enjoyment in torturing the Losers' Club, both mentally and physically. Frustratingly, his descent into full blown madness and thirst for blood is never really explained or shown on screen, it feels a little glossed over but he still makes a chilling antagonist for the gang.
What of Pennywise himself? Skarsgård fully immerses himself within the role of the child-eating clown, camping it up gleefully whilst being deeply disturbing. His make-up and scruffy Victorian attire combined with a clever dose of CGI immediately catch the eye, but it's the subtle nuances that truly make him stand out such as a trickle of drool that hangs from his mouth or his distorted body cracking into place. Clearly Stranger Things has been a HUGE influence on the film, which is not to say it's a detriment, but the similarity of Pennywise to the monster in Stranger Things was pretty much like for like. Too much of Pennywise and you spoil the film, not enough and you leave the theatre frustrated, as he is the signature piece of the puzzle and who you've paid the price of admission for. Even when he's not on screen, his presence has undeniably been made. Luckily Muschetti gets the balance just right, giving you a Pennywise that makes a memorable impression and will haunt the nightmares of many for the forseeable future.
All of Pennywise's scares are hugely improved thanks to composer Benjamin Wallfisch's hauntingly intense score. Though most scenes pay homage to the traditional jump-scare trope, the Pyscho-esque strings really intensify the moment, making the scares extremely well executed and extraordinary claustrophobic. Combined with Muschetti's direction, the score does a brilliant job of immersing the viewer into every single scene, even if some 'scares' feel a little cliched.
Part supernatural horror, part romantic coming-of-age drama, IT is one of the best Stephen King adaptations in recent years that combines the power to scare with evoking the tumultuous emotions of childhood angst. A delightfully disturbing treat.