(Possible Mild Spoilers)
Going to the movie theater to see a film can be something of a gamble, especially with a film garnering such a following as IT, the adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 horror novel. The theater I was in was sold out; attendants having to direct people to available seats as they filed in. As the movie began, my fears were soon realized as I had to contend with the hushed murmurs from the row behind me, the occasional blinding light from a cell phone screen, or the man on the other side of the aisle who checked twice to watch a football game on his own phone. And yet, there were moments when the movie managed to grab everyone’s attention and, for a few moments, the sound of a pin dropping in that darkened theater would have sounded like a rumble of thunder.
Putting King’s titanic 1,138-page novel on the screen was no simple task and, I think it would be safe to say that IT proves to be more of a reinterpretation of the book than a straight adaptation. There are a number of scenes which play out just as they were written in the novel, but this film proves very much to be an IT movie for the twenty-first century. While it may have been fun to read about Pennywise assuming the personas of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolf Man in the book, seeing the B-movie monsters of old on screen today would have been laughable. IT employs physiological horror beautifully and emerges as a scarier product because of it. And, let it be known: this can be scary movie. While I seldom felt scared per se while watching, from the very beginning the movie put me on edge and unnerved me to no end. IT gets under your skin and never relents.
While the scares themselves worked on a technical level, the real lifeblood of the film is its acting. The ensemble of kids who dub themselves The Losers Club and who vow to destroy It were cast and acted to perfection. Jaeden Lieberher, as the group’s leader Bill, was excellent handling the dark, grown-up material perfectly, but it was Sophia Lillis as Bev, the only female member of the Losers Club, who perhaps walked away with top honors amongst the child stars. Finn Wolfhard, one of the stars of Netflix’s King-inspired Stranger Things, provided some hilarious (and much needed) comic relief as the group’s resident clown, Richie.
But, any discussion of IT would be incomplete without mention of Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise, the evil entity and titular creature. Skarsgard was brilliant in the monstrous role and, added with some truly frightening makeup, managed to be a truly creepy Pennywise. I feared that audiences might laugh at the frankly absurd notion of a child-eating, evil clown, but no laughs met this Pennywise when he appeared on screen. In fact, on the few occasions when I can say that IT scared me, it was Skarsgard’s Pennywise doing the scaring. In particular, the scene with the kids and a slide projector had me jumping in my seat.
IT is not a perfect film, but it emerges as not only an excellent adaptation of Stephen King, but as a good horror movie. Today, as the market is flooded with sub-par horror films, IT proves that Hollywood can still do horror right. There, in that darkened movie theater, IT held me and so many others collectively in its grasp; the outside world forgotten for a while; our knuckles white against the seats until only a scream could break us from our trance.