This is going to be a little different from my usual reviews. As someone who’s read Stephen King’s novel twice, once very recently, it’s impossible for me to separate the adaptation from the source material, so I won’t try. There will be a handful of things that those of you who haven’t read the book won’t understand, but trust me, you’ll be fine. Finally, consider this a mild spoiler warning: this review contains plot details of both the movie and the book, but nothing too heavy. If you want to go in blind, stop here.
You all probably know the story by now, but just in case, here’s the quick version: the town of Derry, Maine has been plagued by an unspeakable evil since its inception, and now seven children – the self-proclaimed Losers’ Club – must band together to stop it.
It has become one of King’s most iconic works, due in no small part to its 1990 made-for-TV adaptation, which was largely forgettable but endured thanks to its sole asset: Tim Curry’s chilling performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. It was a masterful turn stuck in a mediocre movie, and since then King fans (myself among them) have been craving a better, more faithful adaptation. I’m happy to say that after twenty-seven years, we finally have it.
The best part of the new movie, by far, is its young cast. I got chills as each of the Losers was introduced; it actually feels like they were plucked from the pages of the book. There’s not a single false note in their interactions, which capture – just as King did – the fleeting innocence of preadolescence. The group’s frequently profane banter is among the funniest dialogue I’ve heard in recent memory, and the direction shows a deft lightness of touch in letting the characters come together naturally rather than forcing their camaraderie on the audience. All the young actors turn in winning performances, but the absolute MVPs are Stranger Things’s Finn Wolfhard as Richie and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie, both of whom possess devastating comic timing. From the very beginning, this is a group that’s easy to root for, recalling the lovable kid-crews of movies like The Goonies and fellow King adaptation Stand By Me.
As for Pennywise himself, Bill Skarsgård does a fine job. In my opinion – and maybe this is the kid in me talking – no one could ever hope to live up to Tim Curry’s nightmare-inducing, coulrophobia-causing portrayal. But as inevitable as that comparison may be, Skarsgård deserves credit for making the character his own while remaining a disturbing presence. He’s both terrifying and obscenely comic, and there’s not a moment he’s on screen that doesn’t inspire immediate unease.
This movie is not a hyper-faithful adaptation of the novel, but it is a good one, one that understands that the most important part of the process is retaining the original work’s spirit. It accomplishes this in spades, nailing King’s depiction of the cosmic horror that is Pennywise as well as his sweet-hearted portrait of childhood friendship. Fans of the book will also be delighted to hear that the movie has more Easter eggs than the Kitchener Ironworks. Having just re-read it, I caught quite a few, but I’m guessing (and hoping) that I’ll find more on subsequent viewings. The change in the story’s time period (from 1958 to 1989) is accomplished quite smoothly, and provides nostalgic atmosphere without ever laying it on too thick.
Unsurprisingly, the movie does avoid the darkest parts of King’s novel (two words: Amana refrigerator), but never feels too watered down, especially when compared to the gelded TV version. It has teeth – no doubt about that – especially for a movie this mainstream. Its scariest moments are effectively dispersed throughout the movie, emphasizing the contrast between the lighthearted scenes of the Losers bonding and the gleeful menace of Pennywise’s sudden appearances.
Naturally, I have a few complaints, as any reader watching a favorite book’s film adaptation will. The final showdown between the Losers and Pennywise was a tad too literal, a tad too physical for my tastes, but it was still well-handled, and got across the central themes of the novel. I have more gripes that are far too nitpicky to list here (see my footnote at the bottom), but it feels silly to dwell on them when I can’t stop thinking about the incredible number of things this movie gets right. Good King adaptations are rare, let alone ones based on his lengthier works, yet here we have one that truly delivers. If you’ll forgive the pun, there’s magic in It.
-We never got any inhaler action in the showdown. Boo!
-Sad to see Silver sidelined as well.
-Mike kind of got the shaft in this; by making him a home-schooled outsider instead of the Loser most connected to Derry, he wasn’t left with much to do. I wonder how this will affect his character in Part Two.
-It was bit of a letdown to see Patrick Hockstetter, one of the novel’s most unsettling characters, relegated to lackey status.
-The visual effects were a little CGI-heavy at times, but more often than not they looked great.
-Fingers crossed for Part Two kicking off with the Adrian Mellon scene.
To all of you who made it this far, stay tuned for my It Part Two Adult Cast Wishlist – coming soon!