When one decides to remake or re-adapt a narrative for the screen, there’s always a question of whether or not the new product will match or surpass the story many hold dear. In the case of Andy Muschietti’s It (2017), not only is the film a worthy successor to the 1990 TV miniseries adaptation of the eponymous Stephen King novel, but it’s an exceptionally good horror film overall. Muschietti, whose only other major film release was 2013’s Mama, manages to distill the primary themes of the first half of Stephen King’s monstrously long narrative on childhood trauma, and present it as a movie which manages to deliver some genuine scares.
As this is the first installment in a two-part remake, the first chapter of It takes its time focusing on the narrative of The Loser’s Club, a group of outcast young teenagers living in Derry, Maine who uncover a shapeshifting force of evil that feeds on fear, suffering, and hate, known as It. When It, taking the guise of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, begins to terrorize the citizens of Derry after 27 years of slumber, it’s up to The Loser’s Club to overcome their worst fears and combat the otherworldly entity. While developing the seven protagonists that make up The Loser’s Club is a difficult task, the character’s relevancy to the story is directly tied to how much development they get. While the group of protagonists feels bloated at times, the film puts more focus on William “Bill” Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), who are arguably the primary protagonists of the film. The supporting protagonists deliver some great humor throughout the film, and the collective audience had bouts of genuine laughter listening to the vulgar and believable dialogue of these scared young teens. Among the host of great young actors, Sophia Lillis delivers an excellent performance as Beverly Marsh, which stands out among the other exceptional performances from the rest of The Loser’s Club.
There’s a debate as to who gave a better performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, Tim Curry in the 1990 adaptation or Bill Skarsgård in the 2017 film, an argument which is rather unjustified given how differently the character is portrayed in each movie. While Tim Curry’s Pennywise is a genuinely funny personality some would gladly invite to a child’s birthday party, teeth and all, Bill Skarsgård makes Pennywise what he should be: that unspeakable predator at the top of the food chain. Skarsgård does a great job of portraying It as a hungry entity that isn’t entirely in touch with our reality, both in speech and movement. This portrayal is assisted with the special effects, which work decently for the most part. The CGI in this movie is used often, and it’s noticeable, but not bad enough to take you out of the moment. Scenes with Pennywise growing rows of razor-sharp teeth and contorting or manipulating his limbs look fittingly strange. However, the effects used to make Pennywise jitter like a tinker-toy as he chases his victims weren’t very scary since he jitters so fast it’s hard to tell what you’re even looking at, and should’ve been toned down significantly to achieve the desired effect.
The film does suffer from the tropes and the clichés of narratives about childhood, as well as the problems ingrained in modern horror. While the tropes of Stephen King (trailer trash bullies, adults sucking, Maine being interesting, etc) should be expected in an adaptation of a King novel, the film also has an abundance of jump scares which are unavoidable in the current horror climate. However, with the term ‘jump scare’ having such a broad definition, I would contest that some of the jump scares are just loud noises that are part of the many legitimate scares, which have great buildup leading to a worthwhile payoff. Aside from this, the time period of the film has been changed from the late 50s/early 60s to 1988, which doesn’t change much in the plot itself, but does lead to a slight tone problem with some scenes. While we’re currently in a wave of nostalgia for the 80s, when some of these references are combined with the aforementioned tropes and clichés, certain scenes feel like they’d belong better in a remake of The Goonies than in a horror film with a hard “R” rating.
Despite its flaws, Andy Muchietti’s It is an overall good film which pits genuine scares against great moments of comedy, resulting in a movie that delivers the themes of childhood trauma, overcoming one’s fears, and the transition from childhood to adulthood. While I wouldn’t call it the greatest horror film of all time, It is worth watching at least once for a more frightening spin on what’s become a pop-culture staple.
George Ibarra is a Senior at Florida International University, pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in English, along with a Certificate in Exile Studies.