Film review – Stephen King’s It

STEPHEN KING’S IT
Big screen adaptation of one of the horror master’s most notorious tales, starring Bill Skarsgård and directed by Andy Muschietti.

Name one decent film based on a book by Stephen King.
Go on. Try and name a single one.

I bet most of you forget The Shining and um and ah before giving up, not realising that actually there have been three to date, with both The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption generally sneaking under the radar as even being written by the great man, given they’re not even vaguely categorisable as “Horror”.
The Dead Zone was half-decent – and scarily ahead of its time given what’s going on in the world right now – and the recent Dark Tower picture starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey was okay, but with most of the rest being best described as cult classics (Misery, Pet Sematary, The Running Man, Carrie) it’s high time Mr King’s work was taken a bit more seriously by Hollywood.
I’m telling you right now that from here onwards it definitely will be, because “It” is an astonishing movie.

Having written 56 novels and shifted 350 million books worldwide, you would think it might have dawned on someone that the man may actually be a rich source of stories for the silver screen, wouldn’t you ? Well, I’m happy to report that It has now grossed $400m worldwide including a staggering $125m opening weekend, so I think the penny may finally have dropped with the studios and we can expect a more serious take on the author’s work, which will actually commence with the sequel to this very picture.
So, what to make of It ?
Well, from the get-go the story grabs you. Almost right from the very beginning, we see the infamous clown, Pennywise, in all his grizzly glory. There really is something about that make-up, that sneer, the curious red hair, the white face, those lips .. those horrible lips.
Just as with those creepy Victorian dolls, the menace in something so seemingly innocent can be utterly overwhelming in a certain light, a certain situation.
Being inside a streetside drain is definitely one of those situations.

The story is told mainly in the present tense and from the viewpoint of the kids involved, rather than as flashbacks in the rather cheesy TV adaptation starring John Boy from The Waltons. One of the great things about the whole It world is that the clown only shows up every 27 years to wreak havoc on the small Maine city of Derry, based on King’s own hometown of Bangor, a few miles up the coast from Portland. You’ll never guess how many years it’s been since the TV movie came out .. go on, I dare you.
The big difference between the two isn’t the budget or modern effects, it’s something a lot simpler than that : the acting in this one is far and away superior to the amateurish efforts of the wooden cast of the 1990 version. Granted, a modern interpretation of the story – and indeed the change in society across those three decades – has meant the whole thing feels eerily believable and it’s easy to get lost in the plot and find yourself emerging from the cinema bleary-eyed and somewhat in a daze as you slowly find yourself back in the real world. The attention to detail of the period itself is stunning and time and time again I found myself comparing it to the superb Netflix drama Stranger Things.
There’s some genuinely funny moments throughout and the script is razor-sharp, the characterisation being archly funny for anyone who remembers those cheesy 80s high school movies.
… and then there’s the horror of Pennywise.

Without giving too much of the plot away, the slowly unfolding anguish felt by the group of friends affected by his presence at first doesn’t seem too horrifying at all. Maybe they’re just goofy teenage kids letting their imaginations run riot. Then again, maybe they’re not. Maybe their worst nightmares are about to come true. Maybe It is all too real after all. The rumours and legend are all there in the public library and the town does have a curiously high murder rate while children seem to go missing in spates roughly three decades apart ..
But that’s all you’re gonna get from me.
I can’t speak highly enough of Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise – he absolutely nails the part and is genuinely terrifying in the role. The pacing, effects, humour, horror and period costumes and props are all bang on too and the overall impact the film has really has to be seen to be believed. It’s almost the perfect popcorn movie and yet it feels so much more than that. Obviously I wouldn’t recommend it for young children, but teenagers and adults alike will love it, though I don’t think many of them will want to visit a circus any time soon.

 

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