Twenty-seven years have passed since the original It made-for-TV miniseries had its debut. Now, Andy Muschietti (Mama, 2013) successfully paints a new picture of the world of Derry, Maine, with a darker, more sinister brush in the first big-screen adaptation of the 1986 Stephen King novel IT. The Losers Club and and their formidable foe Pennywise are back, bigger and better than ever.
From the moment we first see Pennywise’s eyes pierce the darkness from the bowels of a Derry sewer drain, actor Bill Skarsgard’s masterful portrayal of the dancing clown sets the stage for the terror that lies beneath the surface. While Tim Curry’s lauded outing as Pennywise in the 1990 miniseries was the catalyst for a thousand nightmares, it relied more on camp humor, and an almost toy-like performance, leaving some with the feeling that It wasn’t scary enough. Skarsgard’s Pennywise will undoubtedly keep any naysayers at bay, with a nuanced performance that somehow manages to make even his motionless face appear unnerving. From his frantic cadence to his off-kilter gait, to the drool seeping through his razor-like teeth, Skarsgard is superb in his creation of a new, nightmarish version of this now classic character.
For the uninitiated, The Losers Club is a group of seven friends led by Bill Denbrough (played by Jaeden Lieberher), and cohorts Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lissis), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard, Stranger Things), Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff), Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer). The kids, each with their own problems in tow, follow Bill’s lead into an underworld below their hometown of Derry, seeking answers, and revenge, after the disappearance of Bill’s younger brother Georgie. Pennywise, who is keen to their fears, skillfully exploits what hurts each of them most.
Coming from Warner Bros., Director Andy Muschietti lays out his vision of Derry, The Losers Club, and Pennywise sans the flashbacks of the 1990 version. He instead relies on a linear storyline that allows the audience to form a stronger bond with the characters at their young age, bringing more clearly into view their strengths and weaknesses. Whether it be the feeling of isolation, an abusive or overbearing parent, or being an outsider, Pennywise finds the target on each kid, and aims for the bulls-eye. Visually, Muschietti keeps a steady pace, choosing to make it count when Pennywise strikes, putting more horror on display than the original did (or could). The Losers Club balances out the fear with a combination of wit, vulgarity, and sarcasm, but not so much as to affect the overal dark and dreadful tone of the story unfolding before us.
Most people would probably automatically expect this retelling of the Stephen King novel to be superior in some ways, with technological advances in film making and a $35 million dollar budget, all but guaranteeing a better “looking” film than that of the 1990 made-for-TV movie. As I usually feel with most remakes, my nostalgia for the original often causes me to stubbornly dislike and discard anything new, but in this case it’s not hard to admit: This is the version of It I’ve been waiting for. Sometimes bigger is better.