Review: It

It is by far my favourite of Stephen King’s novels. Maybe it’s partly because I was fairly close to the age of the children when I first read it. (It was published in 1986; I probably bought it in ’87, so I was 14. The Losers are 11 or 12. Yeah, I was reading adult horror at 14. This was the video nasties era. Reading the nasty was no big deal when I could rent Cannibal Holocaust for a quarter of the price of a book.)

I hated the previous adaption with Tim Curry as Pennywise. I felt it completely missed the point, though I would have had trouble articulating what that point was back then. Now I can. It isn’t about friends killing the monster. It’s about how the monster can’t be killed because it’s everywhere you look. It’s everyone. It’s about how you get though a world full of monsters in the best way you can. There’s a passage in a different novel that sums It up perfectly: where a boy is looking at a perfectly ordinary set of photos and is terrified because he is certain the monster is just out of the shot in each of them.

I’m not convinced it’s possible to convey the soul of It in a movie. But I no longer expect an adaption to be perfect. I really, really wanted this movie version to be good.

IT isn’t good. It’s fantastic!

Any screen-adaption of a novel that sticks slavishly to the source is going to make a poor movie. I knew going in that there were two major changes: the film was only going to deal with the “when they were children” half of the story (in the novel the childhood and adulthood stories are intertwined); and the story had been time-shifted from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. The first of these is a sensible change; the second, while logical, does mean that the film loses all those creature-feature monsters like the Mummy and the Walking Eye that I enjoyed so much in the book. The Walking Eye scene is one of my favourites.

But those aren’t the only changes. Character back stories are changed, the way they interact is changed, some key motivations are changed. And it all works brilliantly!

The child actors are all very good. I was particularly impressed by Jack Dylan Grazer as young Eddie and by Sophia Lilis as Beverley, but none of them does a poor job. While the children are quite different from the novel, the essential characteristics are all there and the changes work well because they mean that even if you have read the book, you can see the film unspoiled. Beverley’s relationship with her abusive father is much more overtly sexual and the young actress plays it really well. Mike’s backstory is totally different, giving him a more aggressive character when it comes to the final fight, Richie’s role is reduced (I guess the kid  couldn’t do the voices?) while Stan’s is more focused on his Judaism, to great effect.

And It aka Pennywise? Tim Curry played Pennywise as Tim Curry. Bill Skarsgård plays Pennywise as written. He’s not a scary clown; he’s a monstrous, otherworldly creature that sometimes just looks like a scary clown.

This is a genuinely scary film. It does the jump-scares really well (one, even though its in the trailer so I knew it was coming, really got me) and maybe relies on them a bit too much, but it also nails the terror of being a child, living below the eyeline of adults so finding no help there. The part it doesn’t capture is the sense of the children being trapped into their path, guided toward the confrontation that they both want and don’t want. Instead the thing that takes them into the final fight is the film’s one misstep, but then their battle with It makes up for that.

As a lover of the book, I was surprised, thrilled and terrified. I really hope they get to make the sequel…and that it’s just as surprising.