Director Andrés Muschietti had a challenging task in reimagining It, originally an iconic miniseries based on the novel by legend of horror Stephen King. For a modern audience, the idea of a horror movie with a clown as the main antagonist seems destined to flop. It would be very easy to fall into the realm of cheesy absurdity and have the audience in fits of giggles rather than frozen in fear. Fortunately, we’ve been delivered a superbly modernised interpretation of It that captures the psychological uneasiness inherent in the eerie town of Derry and it’s hapless inhabitants.
The 1990 miniseries was set and alternated between two periods of time, 1960, when the main cast were children, and 1990, when as adults they returned to their small town to face the demon of their past. A different approach has been taken with the 2017 reimagining of It. It’s the first instalment of a planned duology and is set entirely in 1989, following the young members of the Losers Club as they first discover and battle the evil that is haunting their town. With it’s retro, late 80s setting, the movie is reminiscent of the Netflix hit series Stranger Things, and if the critical success of that show is anything to go by, this movie will likely have broad appeal. If you took out the horror elements, the feel of this movie would be charmingly similar to the ensemble adventure movies of the era.
The talented cast of child actors are all strong in their roles and command the screen engagingly – not an easy feat for a younger cast. Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things) is perfect for the wise cracking Richie Tozier and provides frequent comic relief during tense moments. Jeremy Ray Taylor is adorable as the chubby kid with the soul of a poet. But the stand out star for me is Sophia Lillis who plays Beverly Marsh, the thick skinned girl with a bad reputation and a disturbing secret. She convincingly carries her character’s heartbreaking arc with charisma and depth.
The premise of It is that the characters each experience the thing that makes them most terrified. This allows the movie to trot out a variety of monsters, which keeps the tension high as you don’t know which type of ghoul or villain will appear next. The movie is low on jump scares – there are a couple but they don’t feel cheap. Along with the supernatural danger, there are clearly fiends of the all too real variety in the small town of Derry, which makes psychological uneasiness a regular companion throughout the movie.
The monster’s Pennywise the clown persona gets limited screen time which seems like a sensible decision. Adorned in Victorian frills, he’s the least scary of the incarnations and too much time spent staring at his painted face would further diminish his potency. Still, his malevolent grin and child like speech impediment is more creepy than funny, a fine line which could easily have been crossed.
The 1990s It miniseries, while still having its own charm, has elements that haven’t aged well. It’s a perfect candidate for a remake. The 2017 movie has masterfully modernised this classic while maintaining the psychological eeriness and depth of characters that is characteristic of the best Stephen King movies. With an R16 rating in New Zealand, this movie will impress both teenage and adult horror fans. It’s true enough to the original to delight fans, while charming newcomers to the story. I can’t wait for the second act and to see this captivating cast of characters all grown up.