Writer: Cary Fukunaga, Chase Palmer, Gary Dauberman
Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacbos, Bill Skarsgård, Jackson Robert Scott
Running time: 135mins
What’s the story: In the summer of 1989, almost a year after young Georgie Denbrough is murdered by an evil force, Georgie’s brother Bill and his gang of self-styled Losers vow to defeat whatever is plaguing their town of Derry.
What’s the verdict: After years languishing in the sewers of Development Hell, IT finally reaches cinema screens. And the reaction is one of relief.
Relief that the characters and tone of Stephen King’s macabre magnum opus have survived the transition.
Relief that the decision to mess around with the book’s flashback/forward structure and present only the childhood portion of the story was correct (for this film at least).
Relief that all involved have produced something that won’t be dismissed as a Stranger Things wannabe.
And supreme relief that they’ve nailed Pennywise, the clown monster memorably played by Tim Curry in the “it has its moments, but it’s Curry show” 1990 mini-series.
Brought to toxic life here by Bill Skarsgård, Pennywise proves clowns are what coulrophobes have sworn all along: monstrous and terrifying.
As disturbing for those who remember the book’s publication in 1986 is the fact that the 80s are as much distant period now as the 1950s were for the novel’s original flashbacks. Fittingly, the film brings the flashbacks forward to 1988 and ’89, meaning Chapter 2 will take place in 2016.
Annabelle scriptwriter Dauberman and Mama director Muschietti (reworking Cary Fukunaga and Chase Palmer’s original script) retain an admirable amount of King’s tome for a film unafraid to delve into dark areas. Even if the pre-teen orgy is understandably omitted.
Despite Gremlins and Beetlejuice posters on bedroom walls, Burton’s Batman at the cinema and NKOTB on the soundtrack, this is no trip down the well-trodden lane of 80s nostalgia.
IT has its audience friendly jump moments – a trip through Pennywise’s scary boarded-up house, a stop-motionesque headless corpse stalking a Loser in the town library, a slideshow from Hell.
But the book’s themes of child abuse and the end of innocence are delivered surprisingly raw (not every franchise horror film features a bathroom bloodbath as menstrual metaphor).
Muschietti convincingly replicates King’s Derry, a diseased town nurturing an evil that returns to feed every 27 years. Where adults are either abusive or apathetic to suffering, cruelty is handed down father to son, and kids must escape if they’re to stand any chance.
Background detail keeps dread bubbling throughout, be it an out-of-place grin from an adult or realising the show playing on TV is a long way from Airwolf or The A-Team. All aided by gloomy, atmospheric visuals care of Park Chan-wook’s regular cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon.
The young, largely unknown breathe vitality into King’s beloved characters. The game ball is shared by Midnight Special’s Lieberher as Bill, stuttering leader of the Losers, Taylor as the portly Ben, and Lillis as Bev, terrorised yet tenacious lone girl of the group.
Unlike the 1990 mini-series (making this a return after 27 years…), IT doesn’t boil down to merely a memorable villain. But, Skarsgård makes the clown his own the way Ledger did with the Joker after Jack Nicholson’s famed turn.
Twisting his 6ft 3ins frame into a variety of gangling contortions, Skarsgård’s Pennywise has sufficient glint-in-the-eye mischief to entice youngsters. Arguably the film doesn’t play fair with the rules of what can and can’t stop the monster in its murderous tracks, but when moving in for the kill this apex predator is truly terrifying.
Billed as Chapter One, glowing reviews and boffo opening weekend box office mean Chapter Two is a dead cert. Removed of its period setting and failsafe Goonies-like plot, and reportedly featuring the more metaphysical aspects of King’s book, it may prove a tougher sell.
But, as Chapter One’s bittersweet ending arrives, you’re left satisfied, excited for more, and floating…