I’ve been pretty upfront about my Stephen King newb-ness. So I’ll just get it out now: I never read It, and as of this writing I’ve only seen little pieces of the 1990 miniseries. The first Stephen King anything I think I ever saw all the way through was Pet Sematary, followed by The Shining. I’ve since read both of those novels, along with the Shining sequel Doctor Sleep. In the intervening years I’ve seen bits and pieces of other films, like The Night Flier, Cujo, and probably some others. But that’s about it.
I remember the 1990 TV version happening, vaguely. I remember adults talking about it, though that may have been after the fact; and I remember somebody (my father?) having a copy of the novel, which was enough to frighten me. (I was eight at the time.) I knew that Pennywise was the villain, and that he was actually some kind of spider-demon thing, and I think I knew that he ate kids. That’s where my knowledge ended.
So now, in 2017, I didn’t have a ton of prior knowledge or expectations going into this. That said, I’ll just get this other thing out of the way right now: I really liked this movie.
Something about the vague knowledge of It as a source of fear from my youth (even, again, without having read/seen it myself), coupled with the powerful imagery of a child-eating monster, really got me. It’s just so awful. The opening scene has poor Georgie–and really, poor Georgie!–getting his arm bitten off by this awful Lovecraftian clown-monster in the sewer. Today I watched that scene in the original Tim Curry version, and it lacks the awfulness of the new one. I was frankly stunned that they showed a six-year-old kid getting mangled by a sewer demon.. I don’t know if I should praise the film for that, but it was definitely an affecting scene.
A brief summary for fellow newbies: It tells the story of a demonic being that stalks the children of Derry, Maine, preying on their fear (but also literally eating them). When poor Georgie disappears (in the film version–the novel’s different), his brother Bill launches a year-long campaign to discover what happened to him. Bill’s quest ultimately ropes in his friends, a bunch of unpopular kids who have all been terrorized by the monster, and they learn that “it” only appears every twenty-seven years, wreaking havoc and causing lots of grisly deaths for a year at a time before disappearing again. The creature is a shapeshifter, appearing to its intended victims as the things they fear most; but its preferred form is a clown called Pennywise. (I don’t happen to suffer from so-called caulrophobia, but if you do, this all must just be awful for you.)
Everything about this film was memorable. The central group of young actors were great, with every single one of the Losers’ Club giving stand-up performances. And Bill Skarsgård’s evil clown Pennywise is equally great, suitably creepy and weird and frightening, not so much to me, but to the children who are his prey. Little me would have absolutely died of fright.
It felt a tiny bit abrupt, and the monster talks too much–though that’s probably something to lay at King’s feet more than the film makers’. A few of the jittery running-at-the-screen scares were standard contemporary horror schlock, but they were used sparingly and integrated more organically into the plot than other recent examples. (Looking at you, every James Wan film.)
I don’t think I can do this adequate credit in a brief review, so I’ll just reiterate that I thought it was very good. The scares were genuine, the writing and acting were on point, the music was effective, and nothing felt forced or Wan-ish. I’m thrilled that Andy Muschietti, the director of the just horribly blah Mama, was able to pull this off. It’s inspired me to buy the novel, which I’ll undoubtedly review on here one of these days. You should see it.