It’s hard – nearly impossible, maybe – to go into It without any sense of critical bias. Stephen King fans hold It in such high regard, it has become like the Constant Readers’ Bible. And for those who watched and loved the 1990 miniseries, let’s just get it out of the way right here and now – yes, Tim Curry is one helluva tough act to follow.
It’s hard – yes, nearly impossible maybe – to not compare every moment to the glories one’s own imagination may have conjured reading the book, or to the scenes you loved (or perhaps didn’t love) from the made-for-television adaptation. There are only a few pure of heart or clean of mind enough to enjoy Andy Muschietti’s It for what it truly is – and that’s precisely who I am guessing he made the movie for.
Just days before It was unleashed onto audiences, Stephen King’s son, author Joe Hill, compared It to the likes of The Exorcist and Jaws, proclaiming it to be one of the top 5 greatest horror films ever made. It is not. What it is, however, is a very good movie – one that has just as much heart as it does horror.
There are also plenty of King fans who have hailed this as the 100% faithful adaptation of the novel we’ve been waiting for all these years. It is not that, either. On the contrary, in many instances, the miniseries was true to the book in ways this film is not. That said, these are different times, and a TV movie is a very different animal from an R-rated feature film that allows for a lot more cursing and blood letting.
There is, however, something undeniably perfect about Andy Muschietti’s It, and that is its depiction of the real-life horrors that children experience. From the childhood bullies to the adults who look the other way, It gets King’s “childhood is hell” trope right in a way that nearly rivals Carrie. For every scene with a jump scare, there are just as many that provoke a heartbroken tear.
It is an extremely dark film. That’s not surprising, considering the title antagonist often takes the form of a child-eating clown. What is surprising, however, is that it’s not the clown that makes the movie so overtly morose. The clown just makes it a horror film. No, the dark cloud that hovers over It’s 135 minutes is one that rains nostalgia, melancholy, and sadness like a torrential downpour between each moment of hysteria or hilarity. And in this way, Muschietti has brought the feeling and tone of King’s epic novel to life in a way that is just about as faithful as we could have ever dreamed it to be.
In It, which feels more like Stand By Me than any of King’s countless ‘scary movies’ adaptations, Pennywise is almost secondary to the other much more real-life terrors the seven children of the Losers’ Club are experiencing. What makes it all the more terrifying is that these are horrors kids across America face every single day.
And that, is who I suspect Andy Muschietti made It for.
It is an R-rated movie for kids. They will not only “get” the film; they will feel like the film “gets” them. Even the monsters (clown included) seem animated and overgrown, just ‘fake’ enough at times to recall a Saturday morning cartoon kind of horror, with much more engine power and speed to amp up the fright.
For those who have never read Stephen King’s It, nor seen the 90’s TV adaptation, and perhaps never even heard of Pennywise – for those kids who are pure of heart and clean of mind – the movie is superb, an emotional thrill ride that leaves you with just as many questions as it does answers, and a deep longing for Chapter Two. Whereas, for those of us who know the story and are anticipating each “boo” around the next corner, we find ourselves asking questions like: Why did they change this, and why was that left unexplained?
To further It‘s credit, the movie boasts a fantastic (often hilarious) script brought to life by seven wondrous child actors. Each are clearly talented in their own right, but together they make magic. A sweeping score by Benjamin Wallfisch adds intensity and drama to the adventure.
I have referred to the movie several times in this review as Andy Mischuetti’s It because that’s exactly what is. Where Stranger Things feels and looks like a Spielberg production of what could have been a Stephen King novel, It might take place in the 80’s but remains wholly fresh and current, elevated by Muschietti’s most interesting of choices: to focus on the heart of King’s story, not just the horror.
If there is one thing Andy Muschietti’s It gets right, it is that.