Since the record-breaking trailer released earlier this year, there’s been an enormous amount of hype for Andy Muschietti‘s big-screen adaptation of IT, based on the popular Stephen King novel. While much of that is undeniably because the film initially appeared to be terrifying, nostalgic, and actually quite good, there’s a stronger sense of purpose that has worked in the film’s favor.
For this generation of horror fans, it’s the most important movie of our lifetime.
Modern horror lovers have been shaped by this story in crucial ways. Growing up in the 1990’s, that molding, for myself, consisted of renting the IT miniseries every other weekend and watching it with my younger brother. I vividly remember the movie-store smell of the cardboard case and the double-VHS being held together by a group of stringy rubber bands. Those memories are my happy place; where I’m most comfortable.
I was never afraid of the miniseries, or even passingly scared of Pennywise- though I’ve always admired the adaptation, and especially the performance of Tim Curry. However, for many, the small-screen version is directly responsible for the nightmares of their younger selves, as well as a worldwide fear of clowns. For those people, myself included, 2017’s IT is more than just a film- it’s a reminder. A reminder of simpler times in our lives, a reminder of how we fell in love with a genre and its ability to affect us, and, above all, a reminder of how powerful and unifying the magic of cinema can be.
In the case of IT, genre fans have been on a nonstop high while awaiting the film. Before the first trailer hit the internet, in my lifetime, I’d never seen such universal excitement for anything horror related. Muschietti’s film changed that, even before a soul had seen it.
But oh boy, wait until you do.
I’m a huge fan of Stephen King, his novels, and a great number of the film adaptations based on his work. Fresh out of seeing IT, I don’t know that I’ve enjoyed a single one of them as much as I do this movie. From the cast of incredible kids, to the intense thrills and emotionally affecting story, Muschietti’s adaptation is perfect.
The talent assembled to portray the Losers’ Club is comparable to the young casts of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Goonies, Stand by Me, and Stranger Things; however, by the time viewers reach the climactic showdown between the Losers and Pennywise, they’ll likely feel that this bunch surpasses each of them.
Every member of the Losers’ Club contributes something great to the story, both in character and performance. Identical to the characters in which they play, this group of actors are at their strongest when they’re unified- feeding off their chemistry like Pennywise to a child. However, there are four undeniable standouts.
Finn Wolfhard is a living legend. After appearing as the lead in Stranger Things, he’s poised to take over the world with his performance as Richie Tozier. Richie is the embodiment of “that one friend” that every child knew growing up. The ultimate smart-ass and never one to pass on a joke (regardless of the situation), Wolfhard will make you laugh at nearly every word that comes out of his mouth. The bulk of the realistic preteen profanity comes from Wolfhard alone as he teases Eddie about his mother, and appropriately acts to moments of horror. He may be used predominantly for laughs, but there’s a specific, triumphant moment in the intense finale that forced an audible cheer from my lips. Wolfhard owns every scene he’s in, and I can’t wait to see more of the kid.
Equally effective at gaining laughs from the audience is Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak. Those familiar with the material know Eddie’s health-freak history, and unlike the miniseries that painted these concerns as more of a straight-forward character trait, Grazer plays the part in a humorous way without sacrificing authenticity.
Providing the more dramatic elements of the Losers’ Club are Jaeden Lieberher as Bill, and Sophia Lillis as Beverly. Lieberher shines as Bill, highlighting determination in the face of fear, as well as strength in the face of sadness. Each scene that Bill shares with Georgie, his deceased little brother, finds equality among terror and heartbreak- and Lieberher brings a genuine emotional depth to these scenes. Sophia Lillis, however, provides what is arguably the strongest performance of the entire film. Living with an abusive father and struggling to find her footing as a young woman with the world against her, Beverly is cracked but never broken. Though she goes through her own private hell, Bev harnesses a strength and an ability to love in a world that’s only shown her hate. Lillis conveys these traits both admirably and inspirationally. She’s magnificent.
Those going into IT expecting an unrelenting scarefest will have those expectations subverted by a coming-of-age film that packs just as much humor and deeply affecting emotion as it does terror. Muschietti’s film is layered by the director’s focus on characters, story, and heart over cheap by-the-numbers scares. Above all, the filmmaker has crafted a nuanced, great film about growing up versus what it means to be a kid that cannot be bound by genre limitations.
Even so, the flick remains quite fucking terrifying.
There are “scary” moments early in the film in which Pennywise felt a tad forced as Muschietti establishes individual frights among the Losers’ Club, but once Pennywise begins terrorizing the kids as a group, the monster is sensationally perfected. It’s impossible not to compare the performance of Bill Skarsgård‘s Pennywise with that of Tim Curry, but the two entities are vastly different, each standing as a brilliant and frightening incarnation of the villain.
Many of the scares in the film, though, don’t come directly from Pennywise at all. Like the novel, the villain frequently takes the form of whatever is feared most by the children, and each of these shapes are used to scare the hell out of the audience in fresh, inventive ways. In addition to this, the town of Derry, Maine, and the adults that occupy it, are every bit as scary as the literal monster of the story. There’s something “off” about nearly every adult character we come in contact with, and when coupled with the reluctance to defend the children of their town from killer clowns, bullies, and life itself, these characters operate as a different breed of monster.
Truthfully, IT is everything that I hoped for. It balances copious amounts of fear and tension with heart, humor, and a surprising amount of emotional depth. From top to bottom, the performances are stellar, and director Andy Muschietti proves to be the perfect filmmaker to bring Stephen King’s material to life. Even with all of its gruesome horror and terrifying imagery, IT is a beautiful film that deserves your admiration. Not only will it be mentioned in the same breath as all-time great Stephen King adaptations, IT may just be remembered as the very best.