The terror began with a boat made from a sheet of paper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.
This is the tale of It, the first big screen adaption of the Stephen King bestseller of the same name; and that opening sequence is so iconic now that it has been swallowed into our collective subconscious like an urban legend.
This film has had a hard 7-year road to get to our cinemas, and that road has been littered with replaced directors, and actors tasked with playing the title character. It arrives on our screens with the weight of expectation and trepidation on the part of its many many loyal readers who have been waiting with eager baited breath to finally see what they have anticipated ever since first discovering the sublime book, and pinning their hopes on a faithful adaption.
So was the wait worth it?
First a quick summary of the films plot – For centuries the town of Derry has been home to Pennywise, a monstrous creature who can become your greatest fear to ‘season the meat’ as it were, and Its favourite prey is children, with their furtive imaginations and powerfully felt emotions. After the opening scene’s death of young Georgie, his brother Bill grows obsessed with the idea of ending IT’s reign of terror and, together with his band of ‘loser’ friends, sets about killing IT.
Also in this mix is The Bowers Gang, led by unhinged snivelling bully Henry Bowers; and the losers have parent troubles particularly Beverly and her entitled and abusive father, and Eddie with his Munchausen’s by Proxy mother. The town itself has a rich history of savagery and sacrifice, which is touched on also.
There is a love triangle that is achingly realised, and a deeper story about the fear of growing up and confronting your own monsters, whatever they may be.
The novel has a more fluid timeline darting between childhood and adulthood as they battle this eternal beast, but the movie has separated the child storyline from the adult one and so it is ‘chapter one’ we are discussing here.
This sounds like a straightforward monster movie but it is so much more than that, as the mythology itself stretches out far beyond the confines of this film. Having said that, the scares are effective and memorable, and that opening sequence in the rain is brutal and breath-taking, an amazing start to proceedings.
Directed with a deft touch by Andy Muschietti (Mama) It is equal parts coming of age nostalgia and creeping evil horror. He knows how to tug at your heartstrings, make you smile but then look around the frame for the next delicious morsel of horror coming your way.
The musical score is sometimes expansive and epic, sometimes creeping and haunting – impeccable.
The cast is nothing short of astounding, everyone brings their A game and its truly wonderful to see each beloved character cast so perfectly; I’d love to pick a stand out but each one imbues their character with just the right look or nuance. Jaeden Lieberher as Bill is vulnerable and strong and sweet and determined all at once, his love for and loss of Georgie keenly felt and portrayed. Sophia Lillis as Beverley is knowing and generous and guarded, as she is in the book. Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie is commanding on screen and utterly believable in a part that could have gone awry, he is an explosive new talent and has a big career ahead of him. Finn Wolfhard as Richie has flawless comic timing and brightens every scene he is in whilst still allowing the character to be real – efortlessly perfect.
And Pennywise? Bill Skarsgard is a revelation, by turns menacing and petulant and childlike and evil; I wish there had been more of him but I understand that an over saturation of such a character would have unbalanced the movie and so best to be left wanting more.
It is not slavishly faithful to the novel, and weirdly, I’m ok with this. I view it more as an appetizer, a companion piece to the novel. Many things are touched on in the film that would then be expanded upon by reading the source material. The majority of changes made did not hurt the things that are most important in this story because ultimately its not about the details or even IT itself.
This is a movie about that fraught time between childhood and adulthood when you feel your old self slip away and become someone else entirely, its about the power of imagination and how friendship can be your greatest strength against the things that scare you, its about love and life and growing up.
This movie may only scratch the surface of the books depths, but it has the novels heart and spirit, and is everything I could have hoped for.
That, for me, is enough.