Jack Bottomley, Media Correspondent
Hard to believe that Stephen King's Horror novel It has not had a proper cinematic adaptation until now.
Up to this point, the only screen version of King's bestseller has been the 1990 TV Movie/Mini-Series. This version of the tale was ambitious if limited and an entertaining story, with good child actors and the ever under-appreciated Tim Curry turning in a now iconic performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown...just don't get us started on the light bellied spider crab silliness of the finale.
However, one thing we must stress about Andres (or Andy) Muschietti's big screen adaptation of the novel (this is not a remake of the 1990 version) is that it is very different in tone from what has been before.
The story takes place in 1989 in the town of Derry, Maine and one year after the disappearance of young Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) has not given up hoping and searching.
However, Georgie is not the only child to go missing, and as more and more begin to vanish or die, Bill and his friends Bev (Sophia Lillis), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Mike (Chosen Jacobs) & Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) (who make up a reclusive bunch known as "The Losers Club") begin seeing terrifying visions orchestrated by a clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard).
What is this clown? What does it want? And how long has it haunted Derry?
Utilising the CG-assisted jolts and dark cinematography that helped make his debut Mama (2013) stand out, Muscietti helms the Stephen King adaptation you've been waiting for.
The violence is a shock to the system from right out of the gate, especially to those unfamiliar with the source novel and only acquainted with the story via the far tamer Mini-Series, but this visceral nature is required to bring to life a truly horrifying vision which understands that true redemption often only arrives after a lot of pain and suffering.
Playing out like Rob Reiner's Stand By Me (another King adaptation) meets Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead, with a lot of otherworldly influences akin to Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (a clear influence here) or even James Wan's Insidious, this is a coming of age Horror that instantly distinguishes itself as one of the best big studio backed Horrors of the decade.
At over 2 hours long, not a single second goes to waste, in a film that playfully references other Horror films (including a blink and miss tribute to Curry's Pennywise), while crafting a distinctive and memorable story of its own.
The reality fracturing scares are supremely effective, and keep you transfixed on the screen. However you really scare because of how much you care about "The Losers Club", each being given ample time for development.
The young cast excel in their parts, with these relative newcomers to film immediately hitting the film world running.
|Also by Jack Bottomley...|
|Review: Kingsman The Golden Circle|
|Review: The Limehouse Golem|
|Review: The Dark Tower|
|The Hitman's Bodyguard|
|Review: Annabelle: Creation|
Whereas the two remaining members of "The Club" are far more vocal, with the hypochondriac Eddie being energetically played by the excellent Grazer and the even louder, wise-cracking and very profane joker of the group Richie being well captured by Wolfhard.
This young dynamic is outstanding but their hard journey is often hard watching at times. The scenes of bullying are particularly savage in their realism, as is Nicholas Hamilton's portrayal of bully Henry Bowers.
But the heart beneath the Horror never wavers, even in moments of such torture, and that is the key to the film's success, as these kids find the strength to escape their oppressed lives and unite against evil and the fear it joyously wields as a weapon.
Speaking of which, Skarsgard's Pennywise is tremendous, wisely sidestepping Curry's charismatic and more visually approachable take on the character and instead embracing the animalistic malice of what lies beneath.
This Pennywise is an enigma, an - as yet unexplained - entity and Skarsgard is frightening, creating a sickening character and one of the most effectively ambiguous onscreen monsters since John Carpenter's The Thing.
However, arguably just as big a monster is Derry itself and this small town is perfectly realised, reeking of unease and a sweaty, clammy, dirty morality.
This setting lends It a powerful grip from the very start and creates a location that feels genuinely like a shroud covering a sinister past and a history filled with angst and anxiety.
Muscietti has constructed an adaptation that cares about its audience and a rare studio Horror that captures the depraved grit and scuffed knees of an indie offering (at times echoing the spirit of the late great Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre).
This is a film that looks and feels as desperate and threatened as its central young characters and the screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga (once attached to direct the film itself) and Gary Dauberman, understands precisely where this retelling is going and allows its characters and their hope to flourish in the face of grotesque cruelty (both personified by Pennywise and the town and its inhabitants), leading onto an inevitable, exciting and challenging next chapter (the 2019 sequel will be the true test for Muscietti's adaptation).
The Losers face-offs with Pennywise make for countless impactful and soul-shaking moments of dread but it all comes down to humanity. And in this film humanity is put under vice-like pressure from darkness but remains intact and thus hopefulness fills the framework (with some moments of laughter thrown in too) of this impressively ruthless film.
It is a film that has much to say about surviving childhood, growing up, looking forward not back and escaping the prison of grief and abusiveness.
It is confident filmmaking, which comes from a team who understand what they want to achieve, how they want to achieve it and whom have strived to give the audience, the story and its author (no wonder King has been so pleased) the respect and gravitas it deserves.
Go and watch this masterful and extraordinary film and "You'll Float Too", whether you'll sleep however is another story...
Director: Andres Muscietti
Starring: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer
Release Date: Out Now
Review: It, 11th September 2017, 14:19 PM