“It” brings Stephen King’s most terrifying monster to life – for better or worse
This article was originally published for the University of Denver newspaper, the DU Clarion. It has been republished here with permission. The original can be found here.
Despite its endless popularity and infamy, many people seem to forget how strange and imperfect Stephen King’s “It” really is. An overly detailed book roughly the size of a cinder block which features an immortal monster who only eats children, a space turtle and a pre-teen orgy should, by conventional standards, not be nearly as popular as it is. But as with all King stories, something about this creepy crawly tale sticks out, and in this case that would be the battle between a group of misfit kids and a clown so terrifying you can’t look away. The latest adaptation takes this conflict and runs with it, creating a wildly entertaining adaptation that nevertheless can’t escape some of the short falls of its source material.
Pushing up the story 30 years in order to set up a modern day sequel, the film takes place in fictional 1980s Derry, Maine and follows the Losers Club, a gang of misfit middle-school outcasts as they struggle to defeat the titular It, an ageless being who feeds on children and their fear. The creature’s favorite form is that of the infamous dancing clown, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, “Hemlock Grove”), who opens the film and sets up the stakes by dining on innocent little Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), younger brother of Club leader Bill (Jaeden Lieberher, “Midnight Special”).
The star of the show is obviously Skarsgård, who makes Tim Curry’s (“The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) memorable performance in the 1990 mini-series adaptation look like child’s play. The young Swede sells the terror with a twitchy, lisping performance who seethes with the proper amounts of disturbing glee and unabashed hatred for the children he is hunting. He’s the most horrifying monster to grace the screen in some time, backed up by impressive character designs from director Andy Muschietti (“Mama”) and company, who have endless amounts of fun with not only Pennywise’s chilling design but with the other forms of It as well, ranging from a grotesque leper to an utterly horrific flute player.
While the clown is what will sell tickets to this film, the Losers Club gives “It” its heart. The standouts of the crew are Finn Wolfhand’s (“Stranger Things”) snarky Richie, Sophia Lillis’s sweet and spunky Bev and Jack Dylan Grazer’s fidgety hypochondriac Eddie. Wolfhand plays the complete opposite of his now well-known “Stranger Things” character Mike, trading in quiet sensitivity for a brash motormouth role that provides brilliant comic relief in nearly every scene. Lillis shows range beyond her years with her determined role, forming the emotional backbone of the group, while Grazer is easily the most human and convincing member of the group who gets his fair share of great lines as well. The other Losers fall a bit short mostly thanks to King’s original characterizations.
King is where the failures of the film come to light. For all the marvelous imagery and characters, the problems of his original story detract from what works. The tone of the film, just like the novel, can often shift wildly between extreme horror and light hearted, coming-of-age whimsy, and as a result the film feels a bit uneven. The awkward shifts and pacing also make the proceedings feel more intense than truly frightening. Like with most of King’s work, the writing itself is overlooked in favor of the idea it is trying to pursue. Luckily for him, and for us, this tale is still one worth taking. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself asking what could have been if more creative liberty had been taken when bringing this monster to life.