Libby Harris on Andrés Muschietti’s ‘It’ (2017)
With the spotlight already firmly on the “King of Horror” with the release of The Dark Tower (2017) and the Netflix series adaptation of The Mist (2017), it seems Stephen King’s literary visions are finally getting the on-screen treatments they have been begging for. The cult following that surrounds King and his coulrophobic 1986 novel, It, has led to huge anticipation for the release of Argentine director Andrés Muschietti‘s (Mama) take on the book and the 1990 miniseries adaptation.
One of the biggest challenges of this particular story must lie in length and tone. At over 1,000 pages and with a supremely dark tone, it could even be that It is a little too dark and a little too long to portray on the big screen in a way that pleases both King acolytes and casual viewers alike. As such, rather than jump between time chronologies as it does in the book, instead we are given only the first battle with Pennywise The Clown in 1988, with the promise of Chapter 2, taking place 27 years later, in store for the future. This appears to be an intentional strategy; just as the children grow to be adults and forget what they saw as kids, so too we will have passed time with them.
One thing that will not be forgotten is Pennywise himself. Bill Skarsgård has some big boots to fill (no pun intended) by following in the footsteps of Tim Curry. But the whole look and portrayal of the maniac clown is about as precise and effective as it could be. This is a clown you will not forget, a clown that will stop you from going to the circus, a clown that will haunt the dark corners of your mind. The sound casting decisions continue across the film; from the wise-cracking Richie, portrayed hilariously by Stanger Things Finn Wolfhard to the tomboyish sweetheart, Beverly Marsh, being played by this generations answer to Molly Ringwald, Sophia Lillis. “The Loser’s Club”, our heroic gang of youthful misfits, come alive by some extremely talented young actors who will now go on to bigger things, something they massively deserve going by their performances here.
The most notable performance, however, is that of Nicholas Hamilton as the near-psychotic school bully, Henry Bowers. At only 17, Bowers manages to convey a real sense of menace (a distressing scene with a cat exemplifies this) and psychopathy. Most of us, especially those of us who were a little unpopular at school, will know of school bullies and how scary they can be. This film about childhood trauma and heart-wrenching, soul-destroying fear, manages to make the prospect of running into Bowers scarier than the prospect of floating in the sewers.
What this most recent adaptation has done is revive not only an old property, but modern horror itself. It is taking us back to base fears in a time when found footage films have been the only notable development in American horror cinema. Although the fantastical elements prevent you from ever fully ‘believing’ this to be a real event, it’s more believable than any found-footage feature. The ambience of the film, the stylistic cinematography and the unsettling piano score oozes nostalgia for a time when horror films became classics.
The path taken for It: Chapter 2 will be interesting to speculate upon. Whichever direction they take, this has set a bar high for, not only its sequel but horror films of the near future. Is it possible that they can be as scary as this? Ultimately, the hype was justified; this is one of the best films of the year so far. One word of advice: don’t see it alone.
It is showing in cinemas now.