Stephen King’s IT gets a faithful enough adaptation for the big screen. Fans of the novel and 90’s miniseries will be just as delighted as the neophytes. The filmmakers play to the strength of the story by focusing solely on the children. They skillfully capture the youth elements across multiple fronts. The terror that crept up your spine as a kid hiding from the closet monster is here in bloody spades. That palpable fear, coupled with the hilarious banter of horny adolescents, sets the ideal atmosphere for the plot to play out. If only the runtime were shorter. At two hours and fifteen minutes, IT loses valuable steam by going way long in key points.
IT takes place during the summer of 1989 in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. A year has passed since the mysterious disappearance of young Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott). His older brother, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), refuses to stop looking for him. Meanwhile, other children have vanished into thin air. The town has a 7 P.M. curfew. The adults have no clue who or what is responsible for the missing.
Bill enlists his goofy friends, the perverted Richie (Finn Wolfhard), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Bar Mitzvah trainee Stan (Wyatt Oleff) to the cause. Along the way, they cross paths with the tomboy Beverly (Sophia Lillis), chubby Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and Mike (Chosen Jacobs), the only black kid in town. They pool their resources and come to a frightening conclusion. They have all had horrific visions of a supernatural clown; a demonic tormentor that preys on their darkest fears and secrets. Adults cannot see him, but he is deadly real to the children.
The film does not take place in different time periods. We are only seeing the part of the book that pertains to the children’s story. This was a wise decision by the filmmakers. It heightens the sense of adventure and fear. The children are outcasts. Every character has a back story that establishes their weakness. They need to find courage in each other, before facing the greater threat. The grownups in their lives are part of the problem, not the answer. These scenes are golden, really well done. The audience gets to know the children as they discover each over. It’s almost like watching another Stephen King coming of age story, Stand by Me. There’s much more humor and heart than expected.
The horror aspects of IT are uneven. Some scenes are delightfully scary, while others feel rote and predictable. This is where the length of the film becomes burdensome. You have to know when to stop a good thing. Director Andy Muschietti (Mama) spends an inordinate amount of time building tension. He’s successful in the first half, but needed to change gears toward the end. IT feels drawn out as the mystery unfolds. Twenty minutes could have easily been cut. A shorter edit would have magnified the good bits and set the film thundering towards the climax.
The fantastic chemistry between the children is the glue that holds IT all together. Andy Muschietti elicits believable performances that sell the story. He goes overboard with the clown antics. I’m not a fan of gratuitous torture or gore. Thankfully IT doesn’t stray too far in that regard. Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema have scored a massive hit. IT will be a crowd pleaser for sure, and the legacy of Stephen King rages on.