The movie IT arrived in theaters just in time for Hurricane Irma. And although some stores had sandbags in front of them, my husband and I braved the Destin Commons and saw IT on opening weekend. I knew what to expect – I love the book, have seen the trailer, and was at peace with the absence of Tim Curry.
Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, IT has enthralled and terrified millions since it was published in 1986. The plot is simple – a group of kids known as “The Losers” lives in ‘50s-era Derry, Maine. One idyllic summer, their lives are changed forever when they are confronted by a nameless evil…by IT.
Half the novel deals with the Losers fighting IT, and the other half deals with them as adults returning to Derry for a final showdown with IT. This movie covers the children’s story, and the sequel will cover the adults. Going in, I knew this was part one—the audience was largely surprised when the end title card read “Chapter One”—and I expected the end to set us up for part two.
What I did not expect? The audience reaction. “It was just the right mix of funny and scary.” Those were the exact words of some folks behind us upon leaving the theater. Funny? Not a reaction you’d expect to this highly anticipated movie that features the granddaddy of killer clowns. Surprisingly, the film elicited multiple laughs from the packed theater, and yes, some of them were in response to genuinely funny quips.
But laughing at Pennywise, the terrifying clown that feeds on both children’s fear and on the children themselves? That was unexpected. I suspect it was the result of a jaded audience grown increasingly immune to old school jump scares. For better or worse, supernatural horror fans have gotten used to the less is more approach favored by movies such as Paranormal Activity or The Conjuring. I’m afraid that less was not necessarily more for Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise.
It’s also worth noting that there was absolutely nothing subtle about the score. That said, when the movie needed to punch you in the gut, it punched hard. And the audience reacted exactly the way director Andy Muschietti hoped it would—with gasps, cheers, and shock.
As an adaptation, IT nails it. There were quite a few winks to book readers, and the spirit of the Losers is pitch perfect. While there’s not a ton of time to spend on each individual’s backstory, each member of the ensemble cast nails his or her story. In particular, Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh sent chills down my spine. Her portrayal of the razor’s edge that children with abusive parents must tread is astounding.
Keeping in mind that IT isn’t a literal translation, however, there were some changes (there had to be, since the novel is 1,090 pages long). One of the very best is setting the story in the late ‘80s. The time jump has no effect on the plot, but it has a huge impact on the viewer. By setting it in the ‘80s, the Losers magically become roughly the same age as a large chunk of the viewing audience. I grew up in the ‘80s and am tickled that I’ll be peers with the adult Losers.
IT may not terrify you. But it will have you rooting 100 percent for the Losers. It will make you jump in the truly critical places. And it will definitely have you waiting and wondering how they will create endgame magic in IT: Chapter Two.
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