It’s raining, kiddiwinks are singing and expectation is sky high; you could say floating. So far so typical in this second screen adaptation of Stephen King’s classic horror It.
Fans of Tommy Lee Wallace’s, now rather dated, 1990 miniseries might feel a twinge of déjà vu through the opening of the 2017 Andrés Muschietti directed film, with both playing faithful to the novel’s iconic opening. Little Georgie Denbrough, in his yellow mac, runs along the rain sodden pavements of Derry, Maine, chasing the paper boat his sick brother Billy – stuttering Bill – has made and doused in paraffin for him to sail in streaming puddles. The boat sails tragically – this a child’s eye perspective – down the drain and out of reach. Except, there’s something lurking down the drain.
It’s here that similarities end. So how does Bill Skarsgård’s (son of Stellan) Pennywise, the dancing clown, match up to that legendary turn by Tim Curry? Rather marvellously as it goes.
From his skulking first appearance to his acrobatic last, Skarsgård is an instant hit. Skewing for a performance that is both impish and animalistic, the actor brings the quality of a springing, deadly marionette to the character, allowing for a return that is familiar in fear but distinctive in design. His eyes glitter, as headlights, and voice vibratos deeply with an almost Scooby Doo-like glee. He’s terrifying – and that’s before the CGI takes over and his form xenomorphs ferociously.
Where Muschietti’s It really flies, however, is in its ability to sustain Skarsgård’s momentum even when he’s not terrorising those on and off the screen. A screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman wisely draws from only half of King’s epic, door-stop of a story, which transgresses its protagonists youth and adulthood, at either end of a twenty-seven year timeline. This allowing for a second, very welcome chapter down the line. Chapter One being the first encounter, the characters’ childhoods shifted to 1989 from the original 50s setting.
What may surprise those unfamiliar with the film’s source is just how unlike the average horror It is. Here is a tale that is as much warm, heartfelt and funny, a coming of age adventure, as it is a nightmarish gore-fest. Much, as it goes, like the un-sanitised original fairytales of the Grimm brothers or Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.
Recalling 1980s Spielberg outings like E.T. or even The Goonies, the film’s young leads – led superbly by Midnight Special’s Jaeden Lieberher – cycle around to a soundtrack by Benjamin Wallfisch that swoops, at times, akin to compositions by John Williams. As with the best of Spielberg, parental relationships are explored, whilst the boys, and one girl, suffer Back to the Future infused torment from swarming, vile bullies. It’s young actors are uniformly great and cast exquisitely, delivering with ease a hugely investable rapport. They’re also terrifically funny. Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard gets the best of the gags as the big-talking Richie (‘Does this thing only affect virgins? Is that why I don’t see it?’) but hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) is an equal joy.
Pleasingly, It also work’s well as pure drama. Sans clowning, Muschietti has here the potential for a solid film about the nightmares the make up the real world. Both Bev (Sophia Lillis) and Mike (Chosen Jacobs) have bullies for guardians; Bev is the daughter of a brut whilst Mike lives with his hard-nosed Grandfather, having been orphaned some years earlier. Intelligently sketched here is a world in which waking up from the bad dream is only small mercy in light of the day that awaits. Derry is a town with malice – not to mention: a stonkingly ramshackle haunted mansion – at its heart and, as such, the film is infused with the concept of these children being small fish in a big sea, where the food chain is extensive. Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) is a sociopath, but remains mere prey to his father.
A word also for some beautiful reference work here too. Who’d have thought New Kids on the Block would prove thematically – and warmly – pivotal in a horror film? There’s tribute to fellow-King-adaptation Carrie too, whilst nods to Nightmare on Elm Street 5 are quite clearly not a common enough feature in cinema c.2017.
An adventure of bikes, banter and bogeymen, It can sit comfortably with the best of King’s translations to film. This Losers Club is one you’ll be begging to join. Pop! Pop!