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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Review: Andres Muschietti's IT adaptation doesn't let Stephen King's much-loved novel down

It is possibly one of Stephen King’s scariest novels, and the director pulls no punches with the film either

Bill Skarsgard in a scene from It. Brooke Palmer / Warner Bros Pictures via AP
Bill Skarsgard in a scene from It. Brooke Palmer / Warner Bros Pictures via AP

All eyes are on Andres Muschietti’s new adaptation of Stephen King’s classic 1986 novel It. Not only is it an adaptation of one of the best loved books in King’s canon, but it follows a much-loved 1990 TV mini-series adaptation starring Tim Curry as the terrifying Pennywise the Clown.

It is possibly one of King’s scariest novels, and Muschietti pulls no punches with the film either. Just minutes have passed when we’re introduced to Bill Skarsgard’s new interpretation of Pennywise, brutally attacking a cute little boy from his sewer lair, and the scares come thick and fast from thereon in.

There is more to It than scares though. It, at heart, is a coming of age tale. The main characters that make up the Losers’ Club are all at the point in their teenage years where fear of growing up, fear of the opposite sex, fear of social acceptance peaks. The kids have a wide range of individual issues to.

Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) has a stammer and is haunted by the disappearance of his brother, who we met briefly in the film’s opening scenes getting acquainted with Pennywise. Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is being abused by her dad. Mike (Chosen Jacobs) is tortured by the horror of working in his family’s meat hacking-and-packing business, but desperate to cut it and be loyal to his family. All these fears and anxieties materialise in the most horrifying physical form in the shape of Pennywise.

The movie is a visual treat. Muschietti’s previous film was 2013’s Mama, a film which had its own very distinct visual language. That film was produced by Guillermo Del Toro, and his influence on Muschietti’s aesthetic is clear.

It, too, features Muschietti’s distinct, fantastical visual treatment, and even horror staples like the blood-soaked bathroom and the scary clown take on their own distinct appearance under direction.

If anything, the movie perhaps focuses too strongly on the visuals and not enough on the narrative. We know Pennywise is some kind of demon that manifests as a scary clown, but we don’t really find out why, where he came from, or why he only visits the town of Derry, Massachusetts only once every 27 years to prey on its kids.

Perhaps these are answers that we’ll learn in the sequel — this is, after all, only chapter one. Chapter two, subject to box office success, will see our heroes return to Derry as adults, 27 years later, to face their childhood tormentor once more.

The movie on the whole serves King’s novel well, and solid performances from a genuinely scary Skasgard and a talented cast of kids help keep things moving nicely.

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In the age of binge-watching though, you can’t help wondering if the 1990 mini-series approach might have been the right one. The movie has a lot in common with recent successes like Stranger Things and Twin Peaks, and Muschietti seems to be constantly straddling the line between divulging enough about Derry and its strange residents and secrets, and keeping the movie to a palatable length.

He succeeds, but you can’t help wondering what he might have achieved given a 10-hour palette.

IT is in cinemas from September 7

It

Director: Andres Muschietti

Starring: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor

Three stars