Considering all the iconic monsters and unstoppable serial killers that have come crawling back out from under cinema seats over the last decade or so, it’s a wonder why it took so long for Derry’s child-killing funnyman to take an eerily coincidental 27 years since his first TV-movie appearance to raise his white and bushy red head. Not for lack of trying of course, many have braved the deadlights of Stephen King’s IT to rekindle the air of fear left lingering by Tim Curry in various forms. Now, after True Detective show runner Cary Fukunaga stepped in and then out of production of this new adaptation, the paper boat was carefully placed in the hands of Mama director, Andres Muschetti to tackle an absolute monster of a story, and he does so with incredible skill and scares in equal balance.
Handing the reins for one of King’s most beloved tales is a challenge unto itself, let alone a monster such as this. And yet still, Muschetti takes on the breeze block of a book just shy of 2,000 pages and trims the fat to give one frightening first half. Beginning as one ill-fated voyage of a paper boat down a rain-soaked street, the Mama maker sets the tone and standard immediately when little Georgie meets Pennywise and Pennywise eats Georgie. For fans of both the Curry-flavoured TV film and the novel, it’s an immediate signifier that shows this is in good hands and things only get better from here.
It’s clear from his experience gained with his début horror that Muschetti has the formula of strings, scares and shawdow-laced hallways down to pat, but there nothing without a group of petrified youngsters to fill them, which is one of IT’s biggest strengths. Making sure to only sparingly use the child-snatching clown (more on him later), instead the levels of fear and dread are stirred among these young kids that make up the Losers Club – an undeniable group of winners all round.
Matching the camaraderie and banter-throwing theatrics of the likes of The Goonies and King’s other adapted classic, Stand By Me, The Losers gel wonderfully together, and each does a good job of filling their spot of the team that are going to take IT on, albeit for a few underused characters. Between tortured leader Bill and strong and emotionally scarred Beverly, there’s still enough jovial bickering among the group to keep you clear in the understanding that these are just ordinary kids in a horrifically extraordinary scenario, leading pulses to raise and hairs to stand on end when they do meet the films villain.
Bill Skarsgaard doesn’t clown around in the role of Pennywise, making no attempt to mimic Tim Curry’s interpretation of the character but instead offer his own take of terror that works perfectly. The latter is simply a different version of a different time and Skarsgaard brings the chills just as effectively as soon as he pops up from the sewer. Whilst there’s plenty of CGI trickery throughout the film, a lot of the horror comes from the man behind the cracked makeup and unnaturally large smile. Flickering from friendly clown to monstrous entity in a heartbeat, there’s something truly unnatural in Skarsgaard’s delivery that makes it all the more enjoyable. The one gripe fans may have is that there’s not enough of Pennywise’s sick twisted sense of humour in the film to make you love and loathe the character as much as you could, but then there’s plenty of time to make up for it when Chapter 2 comes around.
That’s one of the other rare things in IT’s long list of successes that so many horrors rarely manage. So many set up sequels, but very few leave you actually wanting one. Muschetti ends things on a note though that leaves you wanting to turn the page. His first chapter is a harrowing, heartfelt, funny and at times ridiculously frightening first instalment with a cast that help conjure one of King’s most detailed classics. Just count your blessings that we don’t have to wait another 27 years for our next encounter.