Welcome to Day Three of Stephen King Week! King turns 70 tomorrow so I’m posting something King-related all week. One book review (End Of Watch), two movie reviews, and two Top Ten lists (including My Top Ten Stephen King Movies). Today I’m reviewing the recent It film.
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Based on It by Stephen King
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott
Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
The film tells the story of seven children in Derry, Maine, who are terrorized by the eponymous being, only to face their own personal demons in the process.
Is it weird that I’m so happy that this film is kicking ass at the box office?? I just love it when one of King’s books actually gets a good film adaptation and, even better, when it gets a lot of really positive reviews. I did a list yesterday of My Top Ten Stephen King Movies (this film was at number five if you don’t feel like clicking that link). I admitted in that list that, while I always watch & enjoy all adaptations of King’s work, some of the movies have been pretty damn awful. But then we occasionally get masterpieces like The Shawshank Redemption & Stand By Me to make up for the bad ones. It (the film – such a confusing title!) isn’t quite up there with the likes of those two but I’m very happy to say that it’s easily one of the better Stephen King movies of the many that have been made. Yes! I love when the movies do his novels justice.
You’ve all probably seen reviews by now that compare this to Stand By Me and that’s a very accurate description. Stand By Me with added horror, of course. Like that, this is a coming of age tale first and foremost and I’ve always loved a good coming of age tale. That’s why I’m actually a bit surprised that this film has done as well as it has as I can’t see it being loved by full-on “horror” fans. Pennywise the clown is a great creation but I have to say that I don’t find either this or the 1990 version scary. The book is a bit unsettling but I wouldn’t say that feeling fully translated to the films. I’ve never been one to get too scared by movies, though. As far as “creepy” goes, Kubrick’s The Shining certainly has this film (and pretty much every other horror film) beat. It’s a shame that King hates that adaptation – I think it’s one of the greatest horror films of all time.
I think the main difference between the 1990 It and the 2017 It is that Tim Curry’s Pennywise is the true star of the 1990 film while the kids are what make the 2017 version so good. I think this version has done things right in focusing more on the kids & their relationships with one another. I will always be fond of the 1990 film & prefer Curry’s Pennywise to Bill Skarsgård’s somewhat dull (and a little too funny-looking) Pennywise. It felt like Curry was truly having fun in the role & his Pennywise had far more personality. But… This story is about the kids. It’s about all kids who felt like “losers” when growing up. Pennywise shouldn’t really be stealing the show and I’m glad this version gets the balance right in making the kids the stars while also giving us just enough of the monster to keep the story interesting.
The kids all did a great job in this film. As has been said, It has a very Stranger Things feel to it. But of course it would since The Duffer Brothers wanted to make It but went on to instead make Stranger Things, which is meant to feel like King meets Spielberg. Plus It used one of the same actors from that show (Finn Wolfhard, who bizarrely looks like The Shining’s Shelley Duvall). I have to say that the girl playing Beverly (Sophia Lillis) was especially good. She’s like a young Amy Adams (which is a compliment as I love Adams). I’d be surprised if Lillis, as well as most of the rest of this young cast, doesn’t go on to become a big star. However, I’m so glad they AREN’T big stars yet as having a cast of relatively unknown actors was a huge plus for this movie (in my opinion, anyway). I loved not having the distraction of having seen them in a million other things.
I do have to admit that the time period this is set in (1989 into 1990) was another huge plus for me in a way that may not work as well for the current younger generation. Or maybe that doesn’t matter? I loved Stand By Me & 1990’s It even though those kids were living in the late 1950s. I suppose the coming of age dramas tend to transcend their time period as kids that age still go through all the same sort of emotions. Although I found it kind of hilarious/scary reading this article about how the film’s director had to start a “bicycle camp” to teach these pre/early teen actors how to ride bikes for the film(!!).
But oh how I loved seeing kids the same age as me in this movie’s ’89/’90 time period. Well, sort of… I was the age of the slightly older bullies back then. And, like the bullies, I was also a huge fan of Anthrax. Anthrax! There’s an Anthrax song in this movie!!! But I’ll come back to that at the end of this review – I just want to point out that I was more like the kids being bullied than the ones doing the bullying, even though I was a metalhead. 😉 And I had way too much fun seeing the movie marquees in the film’s background accurately portraying the movie releases of that time (god I’m a nerd). And I enjoyed the fact that I could almost hear a massive WHOOSH in the cinema as the New Kids On The Block jokes went right over the heads of those in the audience. Not that I liked NKOTB… Anthrax!!! Oh, and there are lots of fun Easter Eggs in this film so, if you’re a King fan, be on the lookout for them. And read the IMDb trivia for the movie afterwards – there’s loads of fascinating info there.
I think I should try to wrap this up now or I’ll just continue to ramble on for ages. I’m clearly very happy with this adaptation of a favorite book by my absolute favorite author. The kids are fantastic, their characters are likeable (so rare in horror movies), there’s some Anthrax (and a few other soundtrack gems I won’t mention to keep some surprises), there’s a creepy clown who isn’t quite as cool as Tim Curry but still does the job, there are Stephen King and 1989/1990 pop culture references, poor little brother Georgie is still a cutie pie, “that” controversial scene from the book is thankfully again left out of the film, Sophia Lillis has true star power, the kids are the stars instead of the clown, this sentence is really long, and last but not least: this movie doesn’t rely on cheap horror movie “jump scares”. That’s not to say there aren’t some jumpy moments but I was impressed with how well the horror was handled. I especially loved the slideshow scene, which references a fantastic King novella in Four Past Midnight that really gave me the creeps. It focuses on telling its story and on its characters then it focuses on the horror. That’s what makes this a good film instead of yet another bland & predictable horror movie with expendable characters. I can’t wait to see the next film now, which will feature the kids as adults. However, as with the scenes involving the grown-ups in the 1990 film, I think the second film won’t have the same kind of magic as this one. There’s a special sort of innocence in these coming of age films and the ones that really capture that feeling end up being all-time favorites for some people. I know Stand By Me was that way for me when I was growing up & I can see It being that way for a new generation.
My Rating: 8.5/10
**Back to Anthrax, as promised**
As I said, I was a big Anthrax fan in my high school days and the fact that they had an Anthrax song & t-shirt in this movie filled me with such boring old-fart joy. I’ll assume they were used on purpose as they were always big fans of Stephen King and their songs so often referenced his work (such as The Stand in Among The Living & Misery in Misery Loves Company). I bet Anthrax are happy as f*%k that their song Antisocial is in a Stephen King film. And this was possibly my favorite song of theirs at the time, being the socially awkward misfit that I was (am). Anthrax!!! \m/ 🙂