Adapting a novel into a film is a thankless task.
You have to take hundreds – if not thousands – of pages, tear apart the concepts, break it down to its core values, shimmy it into a three act structure, hope it actually works as a film, and even if it does, deal with the response of both the author and their hardcore fans.
Sometimes though, greatness comes from this process, and the 2017 edition of It is one of those fantastic adaptations, which delivers simply because it does not hold the original Stephen King novel as a “holy text”, side-steps the classic 1990 television adaptation, and anchors itself instead on an incredible cast.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, let’s break it down real quick – set in the fictional city of Derry, Maine (home to many Stephen King stories), it’s the Summer of 1989, and children are disappearing at a record rate. Seven kids, known as “The Losers”, look to find the source of the disappearances, face their fears, and also encounter a very, very creepy clown by the name of Pennywise. Is he connected to the disappearances? (Of course he is.)
When the trailers for this new adaptation hit, the Stranger Things comparisons came early, as it seemed we were dealing with a throwback tale set in an absolutely accurate recreation of the 1980’s era. What’s interesting is instead, how much It is closer to a coming-of-age tale in the vein of Stand By Me, although one with considerably more gore and scares.
Less a horror show than a creepy thriller, which was a true surprise to me, the movie’s heart and soul is its incredible casting. All of “The Losers” are perfect, from the stuttering leader Bill (Midnight Special’s Jaeden Lieberher), smack talking Richie (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard), and hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer). This is going to be one of those movies which we will look back on and be stunned at the immense talent collected under one roof. The true star of the group, however, is Sophia Lillis as Beverly.
The lone girl of the group, Lillis brings a maturity beyond her years to the role, and gives the impression that she will be an actress to watch for years to come. Her work is some of the most complex and emotionally effecting in the film, and I cannot wait to see where she pops up next.
The big question for fans of It going into this new adaptation was clear – how is the new Pennywise? With Tim Curry creating a horrifying icon for decades to come with his performance in the 1990 TV adaptation, Bill Skarsgard had massive shoes to fill (insert clown shoes gag here), but I’m pleased to say he does well – precisely by not imitating Tim Curry. Skarsgard’s Pennywise is animalistic and vicious, tossing away the charisma of Curry and making the role his own.
It is not without its flaws – the first half of the movie, focused on individual vignettes of “The Losers” encountering fears of their own, felt disjointed and slow, but once the team comes together with one goal and one focus, the movie flies, becoming an enjoyable thriller, perfect for the Halloween season on its way.
The best adaptations make a creation their own – I’m pleased to say this edition of It truly did. Fans of King, fans of horror, fans of coming of age films – get ready to break bread and enjoy a night at the movies.
It is in theaters now.
Additional note: In a unique twist for this screening, I actually saw It accompanied by my mother. My mom introduced me to many things growing up – whether the music of Prince and the Talking Heads, countless stand-up comedy specials and Saturday Night Live – but one of the biggest passions she gave to me was that of reading, especially that of the work of Stephen King. It was clear that I had to take her to see this, and I’m pleased to share, for a hardcore King fan, the movie passed with flying colors.
Who says horror can’t bring a family together?