1990’s It might not hold up phenomenally, but the miniseries did have a meaningful story of friendship, several iconic moments, and an unforgettable villain. The same can be said about the 2017 film adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel. Of course Andy Muschietti’s film benefits from something that its predecessor lacked: a hard R rating. That’s not to say an R rating automatically equals a superior product. What matters is whether or not the rating is justified for this particular story. In the case of It, the R rating services the story’s dark tone, violent imagery, and coming of age themes. The result is a version that’s scarier, deeper, and more visually interesting than the original.
Where the first half of the miniseries primarily took place in 1960, the film sets itself in 1989. This feels appropriate, as It has always been in the same vein of Stand by Me, The Goonies, The Monster Squad, and other 80s classics. Much like Stranger Things, it’s a throwback where the nostalgia doesn’t get in the say of the story, mythos, or characters. Our protagonist is the stuttering Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), a boy from Derry, Maine who’s left distraught following the death of his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). As more and more children go missing, it becomes clear that something malevolent is lurking under this mysterious town.
Bill is leader of the Losers’ Club, which includes the wisecracking Richie (Finn Wolfhard), the sheltered Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), the overweight Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the Jewish Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), and the homeschooled Mike (Chosen Jacobs). Sophia Lillis is especially strong as Beverly, the group’s bravest member, as well as the only girl. The Losers spend most of their days trying to dodge Henry Browers (Nicholas Hamilton), a sociopath who comes from an abusive household. Henry soon becomes the least of their worries, however, as the kids begin to see their worst fears come to life. A common link in all of these encounters is a devious clown by the name of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).
The great Tim Curry will forever be associated with Pennywise the Dancing Clown. While Skarsgård isn’t as funny in the role, he still creates a flamboyant and colorful incarnation of pure evil. His portrayal is also much freakier than Curry’s, reminiscent of the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang if you crossed him with the Joker. Speaking of the Joker, comparing Curry and Skarsgård is kind of like pitting Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger against each other. Both turned in unique performances that work in different ways. Like Ledger, though, Skarsgård is the one that’ll haunt your nightmares.
This film is actually chockfull of nightmare fuel. Outside of Pennywise and his Oscar-worthy makeup effects, Muschietti conjures up some truly spine-chilling creatures and set pieces. Highlight includes a ghastly living painting, a grotesque leper, and a bathroom overflowing with blood. Granted, occasionally we get an effect that’s downright silly, like whenever Pennywise shows off his sharp teeth. On the whole, however, Muschietti knows how to keep his audience jumping out of their seats.
As haunting as It can be, what really makes the film special is the authentic dynamic between the young actors. It’s so refreshing to see kids in a movie that actually talk and behave like kids. They constantly swear, make sex jokes, and remind us that children aren’t as squeaky clean as the Disney Channel makes them out to be. At the same time, the kids still maintain an innocent charm that’s challenged once Pennywise gets inside their heads. This gives the film an extra layer of poignancy, as our young heroes are forced to face the inevitability of growing up. Personally, I look forward to seeing these characters grow up in It: Chapter Two.