The early reviews for IT point toward an adaptation worthy of Stephen King’s classic novel. As great as Tim Curry undoubtedly was as Pennywise in the 1990 IT miniseries, many fans have long sought an adaptation more faithful to the book, which had to be severely edited down when it came to violence, language, and adult situations. The special effects in IT (1990) weren’t the greatest either, with the final giant spider-like physical form of the titular monster being rendered outright laughable by stop-motion animation done on the cheap.
Thankfully, it now appears that director Andy Muschetti has done what some fans used to think was impossible: craft a film that truly does justice to arguably King’s most enduring tale of terror. However, after a summer of clown-focused marketing, a surprising viewpoint is emerging from much of the critical opinion. According to said critics, while the Pennywise-led horror portions are by no means actively bad, it’s the relationship between the members of the Losers’ Club and their coming of age story that really forms the heart of the film.
With the first batch of reviews steadily coming in, the consensus is clear: the journey to Stephen King’s cursed town of Derry is a journey worth taking, although not necessarily for the reasons most might expect going in. Presented below are some spoiler-free excerpts from those reviews.
Collider – Matt Goldberg
“Rather than give into its audience’s bloodlust, IT is far more concerned with the trauma, both real and imagined, that its heroes will have to face in order to defeat a creature who feeds on fear. Vibrant, confident, and overflowing with a surprising amount of emotion, IT is almost everything you could want from a modern horror film.”
EW – Chris Nashawaty
“It is essentially two movies. The better by far (and it’s very good) is the one that feels like a darker Stand by Me — a nostalgic coming-of-age story about seven likable outcasts riding around on their bikes and facing their fears together. Part of me kept waiting for a voice-over from Richard Dreyfuss: “And that was the best summer of my life…” Less successful are the sections that trot out Pennywise. The more we see of him, the less scary he becomes. Unless you’re really afraid of clowns, he just seems kind of cartoony after a while.”
The Wrap – Dan Callahan
“Once the characters have been set up, Muschietti is free to linger as much as he wants over certain set pieces, and the results are as scary as they should be. [spoiler removed] The effects in the miniseries often look very rudimentary now, and Muschietti does take advantage of what effects can do today. But it feels like a mistake to have Pennywise himself become a kind of effect rather than a demonic human entity.
Skarsgård is buried under his make-up for most of the film, and it is only toward the last third or so here that we can begin to really see the actor himself speaking and moving and putting the frighteners on. Yet in spite of its flaws, this new “It” does capture the spirit of the book, and especially its metaphor for coming together as a group to combat evil.”
Variety – Andrew Barker
“Following the novel’s example, Muschietti has constructed a film that’s just as much “Stand by Me” as creature feature, and casting director Rich Delia goes above the call of duty assembling a group of youngsters who are every bit as funny, irritating and empathetic as the script requires. Lieberher and Lillis are particularly revelatory, their flirtations warm and believable, and Lillis bears more than just a superficial resemblance to a young Amy Adams. But Wolfhard all but steals the show as the gang’s cheerful antagonist Richie.”
IGN – William Bibbiani
“IT may not be the best Stephen King movie (even though it comes impressively close), but it’s probably the MOST Stephen King movie. Director Andy Muschietti evokes the horror author’s effortless melodrama and in-your-face psychological torments simultaneously, because he seems to understand that these sensibilities bring out the best and, by definition, the worst in one another. Nightmares are scarier when they emerge from happy dreams, and happy endings mean a heck of a lot more when unthinkable horror precedes them.”
Nerdist – Rachel Heine
“Though the film is satisfyingly scary (more on that and Pennywise later), it’s the kids who really steal the show here. Evoking childhood favorites like Stand By Me or Now and Then, the Losers Club is filled with characters who feel so real it makes your heart ache. They’re scrappy and raw, silly even while scared out of their minds. But mostly, they’re a joy to watch, and make the moments around IT’s terror something you wouldn’t expect from a big budget horror movie: a ton of fun. The whole troupe of young actors is primed for Stranger Things breakout success, including a second round for Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard. His hilarious performance as Richie, the attention-seeking class clown known as “Trashmouth Tozier,” is a complete 180 from the moody, determined Mike Wheeler of Stranger Things.”
IT is now definitely a critical success, and if box office projections hold up, Pennywise is about to be swimming in enough money to buy lots and lots of red balloons. Not that he’d really have much use for money, as being a shape-shifting eldritch abomination from beyond the stars doesn’t tend to carry much financial overhead. Then again, one can’t say that a kid couldn’t be lured in by some cold hard cash sitting conveniently right outside a sewer drain.
With Muschetti already confirmed to return as director of IT: Part 2, one wonders just how fast Warner Bros. will now be looking to begin production. It’ll also be interesting to see who gets cast as the adult versions of the Losers’ Club, as there are arguments to be made both for opting to go with unknowns who can disappear into their characters and hedging one’s bets by casting established stars. One actor who’ll for sure be back is Bill Skarsgard, who has already been doing lots of talking about plans for Pennywise in the sequel.
Sources: Various (see the above links)
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