“He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts…”
IT is not considered a children’s book by any stretch of the imagination. It is almost unique in this sense as a work of fiction, in as much as the characters are barely teenagers but the reader is expected to be much older. I would say however, that there is an argument that IT should be considered a dark, children’s fable. A natural extension of the often disturbing fairy tales by the likes of the Brothers Grimm. I did read IT as a child and while it scared me and some parts I didn’t fully understand, I fell in love with each and every character, to the extent that IT defined my adolescence as much as any other work of fiction. The point I am trying to convey here is that any film adaptation has a whole lot to live up to and I always found the 1990 version to be sorely lacking. Could Andy Muschietti fare any better in 2017?
First of all, lets begin with all the things that the Argentinian director gets right. The casting of children is a perilous task but they can all be considered a success here. You could argue that the main protagonist, Bill Denbrough and his nemesis Henry Bowers, are perhaps not quite fully realised when compared to the source material, but it would be churlish to suggest that a two hour film should be able to mimic the success of a 1000+ page book. Stranger Things‘ Finn Wolfhard is particularly perfect as loud mouth, smart ass Richie Tozier.
Visually, IT is one of the most inventive horror films in years. All the main set pieces from the first part of the book are captured beautifully, the few that are missing work fine in print but could easily have come across as being ridiculous on the big screen. Muschietti often references some of the missing scenes with visual cues that show that he is clearly a big fan of the source material.
To the main event. Pennywise the dancing clown is one of the most iconic characters in horror history and pretty much invented the fear of clowns trope. Any adaptation of IT ultimately stands and falls on Pennywise. Luckily, Bill Skarsgård absolutely nails it. He is psychotic, terrifying and obscene, often within the same breath. It is a performance that recalls Heath Ledger’s joker whilst still being glorious in it’s own right. In a film of high points and vindicated decisions, Skarsgård is probably the best thing about IT.
Alas, IT is not perfect however. The decision to move the setting from the 50s to the 80s, coupled with the casting of Wolfhard, makes the whole tone of IT too similar to Stranger Things for comfort. Whilst it would have been difficult to avoid comparisons with Stand By Me had Muschietti stuck with the 50’s, he has merely swapped one obvious influence for another.
My main criticism of IT is reserved for the fact that it just isn’t scary enough. Muschietti wants his film to be both a coming of age tale and a horror film but IT always feels much closer to the former than the latter. Leaning on comic relief proves problematic when trying to scare an audience and this does an injustice to just how chilling Skarsgård’s demented clown really is.
Having said that, it is nigh on impossible to capture the true essence of a book that sometimes strays into meta physics and often feels more like the unauthorized history of Derry than a work of fiction. When taking into account the struggle to adapt such a sprawling work of genius, IT must be considered a success. If Muschietti and his cast can produce a sequel that rivals his original, even the most sceptic Stephen King fans will surely be happy.
For a list of the top ten Stephen King film adaptations, click here.