By D.J. Whitt (Circleville, OH, US)

 

IT begins with a rainy day, two brothers, a paper sailboat — and a sewer-dwelling clown named Pennywise. The movie’s opening is true to the book, mimicking both the atmosphere and dialog of Stephen King’s 1986 masterpiece. If you’re a fan of the novel, you’ll instantly feel transported within the pages; seeing that gloomy day in Derry, Maine come to life was mesmerizing. What follows is a great movie and good adaptation. Why just ‘good,’ you ask? I’ll get this out of the way: I’m a diehard IT fan. I read the 1,000+ page novel once a year, almost ritually. Of course my expectations were high, probably too high — but you’ll have that when a book you love (I can’t emphasize this enough) is brought to life on the silver screen. Don’t get me wrong on this, Andy Muschietti’s spin is no hit-and-miss…it’s one of the best Stephen King adaptations to date. When the source material exceeds the 4-digit mark, things are bound to be left on the cutting room floor, and I’m sure what got left in the gutter (see what I did there?) weren’t easy sacrifices to make. Most of the mythology behind IT is scrapped, but there are references within the film which fans of the book will surely get, serving as nice little Easter eggs (see what I did there again?) for those who have read King’s novel.

The Loser’s Club: FANTASTIC. Like the book, these kids are the heart and soul of this movie. EVERYTHING depended on the chemistry of these kid-actors, and they scienced up something special indeed. I believed them the whole way through; I didn’t see actors playing characters — I saw Bill, Richie, Stan, Eddie, Mike, Ben and Beverly. They absolutely nailed it. The standout amongst these young stars is undoubtedly Sophia Lillis, who plays Bev. There are times when you witness a performance onscreen from a relative newcomer, and by some intuition you just know that their career is going places. The girl with a mane of “winter fire” has a promising future yet.

Bower’s and Co.: Henry Bowers and his gang of juvenile delinquents are an integral part of King’s novel. There are two forces at work in the book, and whereas the Losers fall on the side of good, Bowers and his buddies act as Pennywise’s personal chess pieces. In the movie, I feel like they got backseated somewhat. Bowers is a menacing, psychologically-disturbed punk and the actor who plays him conveys that very well. The others are great too. There’s nothing wrong with their performances at all, it’s just that I feel like there were some liberties taken with these characters and their arcs that I don’t really agree with. Oh well.

Bill Skarsgård plays Pennywise as a darkly whimsical, child-like entity — and it works wonderfully. There’s something very “off” about watching a six-foot-three adult parade around in a gothic-inspired clown costume, gibbering in the tone of a young boy who’s sitting cross-legged on the floor while playing with his toys. When he gets a whiff of his victims’ fears, you can see the saliva build in his mouth, spill over his lip and stream down his chin. That’s a practical-effect delivered by Skarsgård himself, and it’s a weird, welcome addition to the character. The Leper scene: I was slightly underwhelmed, but again — high expectations usually equal much to be desired in the end. Muschietti makes good use of CGI in his film, it neither drowns out key aspects of the book, nor does it take away from the central heart of King’s novel.

The cinematography is gorgeous. If nothing else, IT is a real piece of eye candy. Chung-hoon Chung really sets the atmosphere for this film, each shot a fine work of art. There’s grit and green hue underlying each scene — possibly as a reminder that the reason for Derry’s true perseverance lies within its sewers. The set pieces and real-life city of Port Hope breathe life into the fictional town of Derry, Maine. The attention to detail is exquisite; it’s just as I’d imagined it, not a flaw to be found. Benjamin Wallfisch helps to bring everything full circle with a fantastic score, one that seems partly inspired by another masterful composer, Danny Elfman. And what would this merry band of talent be without its frontman? Andy Muschietti delivers something great. I said “good adaptation,” but I’m not sure anyone could deliver a “great” one. Not without it being something along the lines of a 10-part Netflix limited series — which it almost was, but instead we got Stranger Things, which I’m sure no one is bothered by in the least. The end result of Muschietti’s adaptation is a tightly tethered mash-up of The Goonies and Stand by Me, if that dual-flavored combo were helmed by late master of horror, Wes Craven.

Stephen King’s IT is first and foremost a coming-of-age story. It’s about kids who come together and experience life-changing events, crossing that invisible divider between childhood and adulthood. It’s loss of innocence, where the veil of naivety is pulled from their eyes by the clutches of an interdimensional, demonic clown named Pennywise. Andy Muschietti hits the marker with this, capturing the spirit of King’s behemoth of a book with 2 hours and 15 minutes of graceful direction. This story resonates with me — and so many others, I’m sure — because it’s so damn relatable. The nostalgia of once-in-a-lifetime friendship; they can be a toxic thing, memories. But, given time, they fade. Not entirely, but enough. Just enough. Like letting a group of balloons go, watching as they ascend the open sky, until it’s a tiny, indistinguishable dot in a sea of blue. You’ll never hold those balloons again, and you’ll never relive those same memories. So let the fuckers float and get some new ones.

Rating: 4/5

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