A part of me wonders if the impact left by the colossal disappointment that is The Dark Tower may have softened expectations for the otherwise highly anticipated adaptation of Stephen King’s It. That’s not to say the film is bad, it most certainly is not, but for a film that clearly loves the source material as much as it does, I don’t think even the egregious two hour and fifteen minute runtime is enough to fully flesh out the ideas that allowed the book to be as resonant and timeless as everyone says it is.
Granted, that’s not for me to say, since I have no attachment whatsoever to the book, or even the not-very-good-but-still-a-nostalgic-staple 1990 miniseries. However, even within the somewhat plotting and the various troubles and setbacks the film went through during its development going way back to 2009, there’s still something solid here that works.
As the story goes, it’s about a group of young outsiders and misfits, who refer to themselves as “the Losers’ Club,” and they all deal with things like bullies, troubles at home, the works. However, they are brought together as a monster seems to be hunting them down, appearing in the form of a clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).
The thing that works the best in this film is undoubtedly the so-called Losers. They’re played by Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Oleff, and Chosen Jacobs. The film relies on the audience to being charmed by the group and for you to be invested as they band together to fight the evil trying to catch them, and they are all more than up to snuff. Their banter is often gleefully vulgar, full of odd idiosyncrasies, and they’re able to take the somewhat vague details regarding their homelife, which we only get quick glimpses of, and they use those moments smartly to inform their presence and their actions. They are all fantastic, with the standout being Sophia Lillis who makes one hell of a star-making turn if I’ve ever seen one. They all have their moments, and while some may get more time than others, we are still effortlessly endeared by them and root for them.
Everything else? Well…it’s fine.
Bill Skarsgård certainly makes a strong impression as Pennywise, and he brings a more animalistic approach than Tim Curry did in the miniseries. His taunts and ticks sometimes rode a very fine line between sinister and camp that is surprisingly well done. Although, I don’t have any fear of clowns, the filmmaking behind every scene where Pennywise is present is aces. At times he was maybe a bit much, and they way he manipulates and takes advantage of each child’s fear didn’t feel as inspired, or at least wasn’t presented in a way that I found particularly interesting. And with certain scenes, the film utilizes computer generated effects to enhance Pennywise, to show off his otherworldly presence, which could be fine by itself, but it was often undone by always being accompanied with really loud and droning sound effects, taking what should be moments of cosmic dread into mere spookhouse tricks.
For all I know (and based on some reactions I’ve seen) the film does seem to be very faithful to the book, at least the half of the book that covers the kids. The rest of the film simply feels like standard studio horror fare. Admittedly, it’s better executed than most studio horror, largely due to the solid work put into the designs, the music, and the cinematography, but it doesn’t do a lot to differentiate itself from something that I would’ve seen in something like one of the Conjuring films. Perhaps, it’s a case of adapting a source so massively loved, and – most importantly – heavily borrowed from, that even though we finally got around to getting a faithful adaptation, bits and pieces have already been repackaged and reused to sometimes better effect, and it no longer resonates as strongly. It lacks the very distinctive vision that made other King adaptations stand out. Director Andy Muschietti clearly knows how to work with his actors and has a solid understanding of his craft, but I don’t feel that personal touch.
I don’t think It is a particularly great film, but it is a fine film that is elevated by the charming performances of the main group of kids. With that said, there is a core audience of Stephen King fans who will eat this up, and this is very much for them (and considering the heartbreak they must’ve felt with The Dark Tower, I say let them have this). Despite the film not diving deeper into some of the complex ideas of trauma, coping with loss, and making sense out of childhood fears, the film ultimately succeeds where it absolutely needs to with the Losers’ Club. I had a great time spending time with these kids, and I was rooting for them the entire way through. If anything, it’s only going to make me more disappointed when the inevitable sequel comes out because I just know the adult versions of these characters are going to be nowhere near as endearing.