There has been an increase over the twenty-first century of Horror films being remade, and terrifying tales re-adapted. Finally, director Andrew Muschietti tackles what may be the most deserved and demanded remake in the hearts of genre fans, one of Stephen King’s timeless tale of fear: It.
Differing from the source material and the 1990 TV mini-series that has become iconic for Tim Curry’s delightfully eccentric turn as the titular balloon-wielding antagonist, Muschietti’s vision is set in the 1980’s, rather than the 1950’s. Altering decades was certainly a bold move, but worthwhile. Bill’s (Jaeden Lieberher) bedroom is plastered with posters, the likes of Joe Dante’s Gremlins and Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice signal the tone and atmosphere of the film, but also cement the characters as what one would expect; similarly Beverly’s (Sophia Lillis) room sports posters of Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Replacements. Even decades forward, this is undoubtedly the losers club.
The members of the losers club are at first segregated, they are dealing with the trials of the pre-pubescent alone. Bullies, early signs of romance and school are the perceived villains of their daily routine. The most tortured and beautifully realised are Beverly and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor); they are both targets, drawn together out of an unspoken connection as a result of their inability to fit in, despite being exemplary and compassionate. Their first interaction is heartwarming, charming and uplifting. One of the most prominent themes of King’s IT is unity, and coming together to tackle anxieties, and this early scene captures the bond that will be melded between not just Ben and Bev, but the ensemble of glowing youngsters the audience is treated to along the journey. The only one happier for Ben after plucking up the courage to make jokes about the music he loves to the pretty girl in school than himself, is the audience.
Yet, past the bullies and the navigation of adolescent benchmarks is a greater threat – Pennywise the clown. The source of the small town of Derry’s demise; a mysterious and threatening incarnation of fear itself that surfaces every twenty-seven years to feed. In the films phenomenal opening scene the audience is witness to a tender, albeit brief, insight into the exquisiteness of brotherly love. Bill’s younger brother Georgie plays with his sailboat in the flowing puddles of the winding and ominous street. As his sailboat is swallowed by one of the many drains, he is met by Pennywise, powerfully portrayed by Bill Skarsgard. The enigmatic clown blends humour and camaraderie to make a persuasive argument for Georgie to reach into the sewer. This scene is possibly the best of the entire film. It is the only time that the threatening ubiquity of the clown is genuinely unnerving. The piercing glow of its eyes, the luminous determination projected through those two slight apertures of light is rather terrifying. One particular interruption between their conversation sees Pennywise seem to stare straight through Georgie, not saying a word. Whether it is contemplating the horrors it wishes to inflict, or simply concentrating on not breaking form is unsure; but, it is the uncertainty of its thought process in those few hushed breaths that introduce the clown as an unforgettable foe.
Sadly, Pennywise is never as demanding of the screen after this exposition. There is some fairly poor CGI, and the persistence of showing the clown in the first act lessens the impact that his presence may have had when the story begins to develop. The scares are familiar and grounded in cliche. Fortunately, Muschietti’s visual flare is prosperously evident, and the imagery that he conjures is wonderfully creative and fantastically shot by Chung-hoon Chung, most notable as the cinematographer on much of South-Korean maestro Chan-wook Park’s work. Despite being low on scares, the film more importantly makes you care about its characters. They are all fantastic in the roles. Particularly Richie (Finn Wolfhard) as the wisecracking loudmouth of the group, and Beverly. Arguably, she is the heart and soul of the entire piece – in a Horror film with an abundance of genre conventions at its disposal, the scariest place to be is inside her home of abuse and innocence lost.
The horror elements of It never live up to the films first few moments, but Muschietti seems to perfect everything else. When the scares falter, the relationships explored throughout the film work, and they are as compelling as one would expect from a film that considers itself as a conventional coming of age drama. The added bonus is the numerous images crafted that are fun, stimulating, and intensely realised. It is a success.