It by Stephen King is one of my all-time favorite books. It features humor, scares, and memorable characters (not to mention an iconic villain who smells people’s fears) that we get to know and sympathize with. The first attempt at adapting Stephen King’s ambitious magnum opus about good vs. evil into a film happened in 1990 on ABC, starring Tim Curry as the titular monster. With a gifted ensemble cast, it started off alright during the first half. Then—it derailed in the second half resulting in becoming more as a sitcom/soap opera than a straight-up horror movie.
Now, the second adaptation is the first to be released in theaters. After last year’s clown epidemic, I can’t think of a more appropriate time for people to be terrified of clowns again. Well—it finally happened! Argentine director Andy Muschietti (Mama) and three screenwriters have crafted something scary, hilarious, and heartbreaking while keeping the nature of Stephen King’s book without any of the ridiculous stuff. Even Stephen King stated how much he loved this version of It. “I wasn’t prepared how good it really was,” he said in an interview. “It’s something that’s different, and at the same time, it’s something that audiences are going to relate to.”
Every 27 years, an extraterrestrial creature, known as It, preys on children and their fears. It takes the form of what they fear the most, and brings them to their doom.
This happens to one of the kids in the beginning of the film; where it opens up on rainy fall day in 1988 in the town of Derry, Maine. Bill Denborough (Jaeden Lieberher, Midnight Special and St. Vincent), a 12-year-old with a terrible stutter, has finished making a paper boat for his young brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). He chases it to a storm drain and meets Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), a seemingly cheerful clown, in the sewer, who…well—you know what happens next.
Eight months later, school is out for the summer. Derry seems to be a little quieter after Georgie’s death. A lot more kids have either disappeared or pronounced dead. Bill decides to team up with his friends—asthmatic germaphobe Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), trashtalking Richie (Finn Wolfhard, Stranger Things), tomboy Beverly (Sophia Lillis), new-kid-on-the-block Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), homeschooled Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and Jewish kid Stan (Wyatt Oleff)—to defeat It.
It is a lovely tribute to the 1980s culture. Focusing more on the kids than on the clown, their interactions are reminiscent to Stand by Me, another Stephen King adaptation. The adults are mostly absent, but whenever they appear, they are portrayed as either abusive or overbearing. The kids are grown up in a time where they are neglected by their parents, and need to escape from their troubles to stand up for one another. The audience fears what the children fear (which is what horror is all about).
I can’t imagine a better cast. Finn Wolfhard’s Richie is a laugh riot; he tends to get out of every situation by wisecracking or doing voices. Sophia Lillis is the new Molly Ringwald (even one of the characters calls her that); her Beverly has the kind-hearted bravery like the boys. Although she is the outcast at school (her classmates call her a slut) and goes home to her abusive father (Stephen Bogaert), she feels more at home with the boys. If Tim Curry’s goofy yet eerie portrayal of Pennywise was to Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman, Bill Skarsgård’s is to Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. Whenever he is on screen, he is terrifying; from the buck-toothed grin to the vintage clothes to his line deliveries (i.e. “You’ll float, too”).
What makes It shine is the imaginative sets, clever angles, Benjamin Wallfisch’s eerie score, and Muschietti’s direction and atmosphere. It’s hard not to get a tingle down one’s spine whenever the kids’ fears come to pure life, ranging from a Leper to a child walking with its head blown off. The scary stuff is a ton of fun to watch; even The House on Neibolt Street is the haunted house you wished you have ever been a part of. I can’t ask for anything more perfect. It is officially one of my favorite horror movies.
With the sequel coming out sooner than everyone hoped, it wouldn’t work without Bill Hader cast as Richie and Jessica Chastain as Beverly.